- Associated Press - Monday, May 15, 2017

HOUSTON (AP) - Poor record-keeping is just one of the problems Houston housing officials are facing as the city’s low-income housing agency struggles to meet its mission.

Houston is facing a growing affordable housing crisis, with roughly 43,000 families on the waiting list for subsidized housing at the Houston Housing Authority as of April.

The Houston Chronicle (https://bit.ly/2qk6rm2 ) reported that Houston spent about $96 million in the last decade on affordable housing, but records show half of that was spent on other purposes, such as administrative costs, professional services, federal fines or keeping programs running after grants were pulled.

Because the local housing fund has few spending restrictions, it has sometimes been used as a source of money in emergencies, including paying for administrative costs and some recovery programs after Hurricane Ike.

The City Controller’s office, which is auditing the fund, found that the Housing and Community Development Department is missing paperwork to support some of its spending.

“What we’ve uncovered is sloppy,” City Auditor Courtney Smith said.

Officials recently discovered that $46 million was available to spend as of March, millions more than they thought. The money appears to have previously been unaccounted for because of poorly kept records that employees in the Housing and Community Development Department and the city’s economic development office, which manages the housing fund’s revenue, struggled to interpret. City officials have attributed the errors partly to a move to a new accounting system five years ago that led them to lose track of nearly $17 million.

Though over 2,000 homes were constructed with the fund’s help in the past decade, a lack of long-term affordability requirements means fewer than a quarter of those homes remain affordable for low-income families. For example, one program did not require buyers to be low-income and they were later allowed to resell the homes at market rate.

“This has definitely been a missed opportunity,” said Heather Way, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s community development clinic. “It’s alarming to see in light of the huge needs that exist in Houston for affordable housing.”

An estimated 4,200 families had homes that were repaired, inspected or otherwise financially supported by the fund in the past decade.

Mayor Sylvester Turner wants to focus city investment into five low-income neighborhoods to repair and build subsidized housing with a five-year housing plant to guide city initiatives. Turner also said the city needs to define affordability and improve tracking and transparency.

“People need to have a clear understanding of how these dollars are going to be utilized,” he said.

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, https://www.houstonchronicle.com

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