Within days, the massive scramble came to a conclusion: HUD told Congress that its $32 billion HOME Investment Partnerships Program was doing just fine.
Those findings followed reports by The Washington Post that HUD had routinely failed to track the progress of its affordable-housing projects and that hundreds of deals involving hundreds of millions of dollars showed signs of delay or appeared to be in limbo. HUD officials defended the program, saying most projects are successfully completed.
But HUD’s attempt to demonstrate that success to Congress resulted in reports to lawmakers that, to judge by federal records and interviews with dozens of local housing agencies in charge of the projects, contain discrepancies and contradictions that suggest continuing problems with the program.
Indeed, the delays vexing the HOME program are larger than previously reported. In recent weeks, local housing agencies have confirmed that about 75 construction projects drew and spent $40 million in HOME funds with little or nothing built. That is in addition to the nearly 700 potentially delayed projects The Post identified earlier this year.
“The data that HUD has provided to this committee is completely unreliable,” said Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Financial Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations, which has been probing the HOME program. “HUD has almost no way of knowing whether taxpayer dollars have been wasted or used for their intended purpose.”
In its recent accounts to Congress, HUD reported as complete at least 17 construction projects that did not deliver all of the units that had been promised. One was in Newark, where a developer received nearly $700,000 in HOME funding but completed only four of 11 units, leaving behind partially completed houses and barren lots, records and interviews show.
“We would not have characterized it as satisfactorily completed,” said Newark housing chief Michael Meyer.
HUD also reported that at least 16 projects were completed months or even years before low-income buyers purchased the units, local housing officials said. HUD’s regulations state that homeowner projects are complete only after the homes are sold.
Members of Congress have found similar inconsistencies. At a hearing last week, several Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee said they had tracked down reportedly completed projects in their districts and found, among other things, a vacant lot and a shuttered building.
“Where’s the money? Where are the units that were promised? Has HUD demanded repayments for units that were not built?” said Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), who chairs the Financial Services subcommittee on insurance, housing and community opportunity.