When Kyle Mayor Todd Webster received a scathing letter this month from the federal government suggesting rampant mismanagement at the city’s independent housing authority, he was shocked by the findings — particularly because he hadn’t even known the agency existed.
“I didn’t know very much about the Kyle Housing Authority, but what I will tell you is that we have one,” Webster told the City Council, to its surprise, at a meeting this month.
The authority, which receives federal funding to manage two apartment complexes offering subsidized rent, is independent of the city. It is supposed to be overseen by a board of commissioners appointed by the mayor.
But it has apparently been operating without any mayoral appointees for an unknown period of time — possibly since the agency’s inception in 1977, Webster said.
The last board appointments were made in 2007, he said, but certificates were approved and signed by the executive director, not the mayor, as required by state law. The authority is also required by state law to submit annual reports of its activities. Webster said the city does not have records of any such reports.
The Nov. 2 letter, sent by the director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s regional office in San Antonio, discussed several issues from a routine inspection in March, including a lack of oversight, undocumented spending and housing units in disrepair. For instance, some units appeared to have lacked a working refrigerator for years.
Meanwhile, the letter said, the authority’s executive director doubled the HUD-funded portion of her salary between 2012 and 2015 without any outside approvals.
The day he received the letter, Webster said, he chose five people who all agreed on the spot to form a new board of commissioners. A few days later, Kyle Housing Authority Executive Director Vickie Simpson notified the mayor in writing of her “retirement/resignation” as of Dec. 31.
“I have enjoyed my 32 years at the housing authority,” Simpson wrote, “but it is time for me to move on and spend more time with my husband, who has been ill for the past six years.”
Spending, maintenance issues
The Kyle Housing Authority manages 51 apartments that have partially subsidized rent, including 21 units at 417 W. Second St. and 30 units at 101 Post Road Circle. The first complex is supported by HUD funding; the second is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The authority employs two people: Simpson and a maintenance worker. In 2015, the HUD-funded portion of Simpson’s compensation was $18,726 in salary plus $5,027 in benefits, and the maintenance worker received $17,647 in salary plus $6,860 in benefits. Simpson works seven hours a day, four days a week, the letter said. Both also receive compensation from the Department of Agriculture.
Other findings from the letter include:
- Poor maintenance of units, according to HUD’s physical inspection results, including repeat deficiencies between 2013 and 2015 with no sign that fixes were made.
- Salary increases, travel payments and employee benefits contributions were made without supporting documentation.
- Paid absences were allowed over the past six years without supporting documentation.
- Some work was provided without any contracts or board approval. For instance, the executive director said she had contracted with a landscape company but could not provide HUD with any contract or procurement documentation.
- HUD funds might have been inappropriately used for work on the separate housing program administered by the Department of Agriculture.
Reached Monday, Simpson said she didn’t want to discuss the issues raised in the HUD letter because she hasn’t had a chance to speak to HUD. She added that she had been planning her retirement for months due to her husband’s illness.
“I was really upset when I got (the letter from the regional HUD office) because that’s not right,” she said, citing the undocumented travel expenses as an example. “I don’t go anywhere, so I don’t know where they got all that information.”
Maria Elena Gonzales, who has lived in the complex on West Second Street for 14 years, told the American-Statesman on Friday that while she is grateful for her subsidized housing, maintenance requests have often not been answered or have taken weeks to be attended to. Her stove, for example, has smelled of gas every time she has turned it on for the past four years, she said.
“There’s times that they do hurry up and do stuff, but the main thing is (the maintenance man is) working (at the authority’s other housing complex),” said Gonzales, 56. “How do we know he’s not sleeping?”
Others, including 85-year-old resident Pedro Cervantes Castro, had no complaints and spoke highly of Simpson as a landlord.
“Everything here is well-controlled, like they say, like God has the world controlled — that’s how Mrs. Vickie is,” Cervantes Castro, who has lived in the complex for the past 12 years, said in Spanish.
Mayor vows to “fix it”
Typically, housing authorities in Texas are independent of their host city or county, apart from the appointment of board members by a mayor or commissioners court. An independently appointed board is central to accountability, public housing experts said.
The executive director appointing the commissioners who are supposed to oversee her work “immediately raises all kinds of concerns about oversight and independence,” said attorney Fred Fuchs, housing group coordinator with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and an adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
“That is highly unusual,” Fuchs said. “It seems like what they have is an executive director who has basically been given sort of carte blanche on running the housing authority with no oversight.”
While Webster acknowledged he should have known about the agency, he said he’s not going to dwell on the past.
“I don’t know under what circumstances I would have had the ability to know something. You just don’t open the local government code and go through it,” he said. “I’m accepting responsibility for my part in this, but all I can do is move forward and fix it.”
Webster said he hopes the new board with its professional expertise can help turn the organization around. He described his appointees as a transition team and said they are not obligated to serve the full two-year term.
“I think there’s an opportunity here to improve the facility, improve the management of it, improve the financing of it and frankly improve the quality of life of the people who are living there,” Webster said. “It’s a separate governmental entity, but we need to take this organization and raise it to the community standard that we expect for everything else here.”
Council members were also surprised to learn about the letter.
“My first thought was this is what happens when organizations who receive governmental subsidies operate with virtually no oversight for years on end,” Council Member Travis Mitchell said in an interview Friday. “Over time, things get missed and dollars get lost.”/p>
HUD regional spokeswoman Patricia Campbell declined the American-Statesman’s request to interview regional director David Pohler, who wrote the letter.
“Our goal is always to correct problems, not punish,” Campbell said in an email. “We’re confident that the city is moving in the right direction.”
Though Campbell said the agency is too small to meet HUD’s threshold required to undergo an audit, Webster said it will be up to the new board to decide whether to investigate the finances.
If you go
The Kyle Housing Authority’s first city-supported public meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the City Hall chambers, 100 W. Center St. The new board members will be sworn in, and the executive director’s resignation will be accepted.
These people are on the mayor’s list of appointees to the Kyle Housing Authority’s board of commissioners:
Michelle Lopez, former Kyle City Council member
Daniel Harper, deputy vice chancellor for finance, Texas State University
Lisa Adams, community relations coordinator, Central Texas Medical Center
Veronica Sanders, criminal defense attorney
Clara Rodriguez, longtime resident