A. Melvin Miller, chair, Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, opened Monday night's regular meeting with an explanation of the recent surprise visit by U.S.Department of Housing and Urban Department Inspector General investigators to ARHA's Roth Street office.
Addressing the audience attending the meeting at the Ladrey High-Rise, Miller began his remarks by stating, "Most of you have read in the newspapers about ARHA and the HUD Inspector General investigators. I will try to tell you what we know."
According to Miller, HUD investigators, "Issued subpoenas for specific folders pertaining to the Section 8 Housing Program as well as for files dealing with three Section 8 landlords and the employment files for 10 ARHA employees." They were given access to the information they were seeking, according to Miller.
"We had no idea they were coming. And, we have not heard from them or seen them since they were there. We have no idea what they are looking for," he said.
"The mere fact that they asked for specific files leads me to believe someone has alerted them to specific things. All I have told you is all anyone at this table knows," Miller said in referring to the other Commissioners in attendance Monday night.
The only two absent from nine member board were Vice Chair Carlyle C. Ring, Jr., and Carter Flemming. Both had excused absences, according to Miller
"I personally believe they are not going to find anything because of the reviews we have gone through. As we get information we will share it because we have no reason to hide it from anyone," he said.
HOWEVER, AFTER THE regular meeting concluded, an executive session was held. Such a session is automatically on every ARHA meeting agenda "to discuss personnel, legal and real estate matters." But, Monday night Miller was not expecting to hold such a session and had to reopen the meeting after officially closing it to accommodate a request by other Commissioners for an executive session.
He admitted that he had been "hearing all types of stories on the street" as to why the HUD investigators were conducting their
records search. "If they find anything wrong I can guarantee you we will correct it. If they show us something is being done wrong we will correct it," Miller said.
Commissioner Leslie Hagan stated that she had been contacted by a Washington Post reporter asking about "the raid" on ARHA offices. "I told the reporter I would not characterize it as a raid and that ARHA employees had been totally cooperative," Hagan said.
The Board's newest member, Peter H. Lawson, said, "I understand that the Department of Justice and HUD can't comment on this. But, we know nothing more of this than what we've read in the newspapers. I also support the ARHA employees."
IN ADDITION TO Miller's explanation, ARHA Executive Director William Dearman distributed a "List of Current Reviews and Audits" as of June 2005 which the Authority has undergone since 2003. Of the 11 items on the list seven have been by HUD.
Over the past five months HUD has been conducting audit reviews of virtually all of ARHA's operations including public housing, Section 8, HOPE VI, general administration and other facets. Following last Tuesday's early morning visit by the HUD investigators Dearman acknowledged he had recently completed an exit interview with "the primary" HUD auditor and "he didn't give any indication anything was wrong."
Monday night Dearman said, "Chairman Miller and I have been meeting with staff about the ongoing investigation to keep them informed." He held a similar staff meeting at the 18 Roth St. office upon his arrival the morning of July 19 "so they are not demoralized by this," he explained at that time.
Both Miller and Dearman had a meeting with Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille last Friday to review the situation with him. "I ask them if they were being responsive to the investigators and they assured me they had instructed staff to be totally responsive to the investigators," Euille said.
Following Miller's explanation the Board continued with their regular meeting which included the following items:
*Construction at the Family Resource Center, which has been on hold due to contractor problems, is scheduled to commence again by August 1 and be completed the end of August, according to Dearman. Enrollment at the Center has doubled in the last two months after the hiring of a former Samuel Madden Downtown resident. "She is now implementing the ARHA Book Club program where the emphasis will be on improving reading and writing skills," the Commissioners were informed.
*An individual who recently completed ARHA's Family Self Sufficiency Program has been able to qualify for the purchase of a home in the Del Ray area, according to Marye Ish, director, ARHA Housing Operations. They have been approved to use their Section 8 voucher as part of the down payment for the home, Ish explained. This is the first instance of this under ARHA. It has been in practice in other areas of Northern Virginia.
COMMISSIONER LAWSON questioned the purchase of security screen doors based on the receipt of only one viable bid. He calculated that each door came in at a cost $648. "I will vote for this because they are needed. But, I am concerned anytime we get less than three bids on anything," he said.
ARHA remains very active in the Fatherhood initiative and has been included in the national effort. ARHA intends to apply for federal funds available to aid this program. ARHA staff working on this program has conducted workshops on community building for attendees from throughout the nation, according to the Board report.