Feds Ask County for $270,000 to Address Affordable Housing Violations

A broken lock on a home's entry door that federal auditors said Orange County failed to properly inspect.

Federal authorities have requested $270,000 in reimbursements from Orange County for failing to inspect federally subsidized housing, including exterior doors and first-floor windows that don’t lock and electrical problems that are fire hazards.

The problems “occurred because the [Orange County Housing] Authority failed to provide current and consistent training and a complete quality control review to its inspectors,” according to an audit by the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Unless the housing authority improves its inspection program, the auditors wrote, HUD will spend more than $48 million over the next year on Orange County housing units that are in “material noncompliance” with federal standards.

One of the audits looked 7 percent of the 1,154 Orange County housing units funded by the federal Housing Choice Vouchers program. The program is aimed at helping “low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market.”

Of those 80 housing units inspected, more than half  “were in material noncompliance with HUD standards,” the audit found. “For those units, the Authority’s inspectors failed to report 229 deficiencies that existed when they conducted their last inspections.”

(Click here to read the first audit and here for the second audit.)

The $270,000 payment is meant to reimburse the federal government for payments it made for the substandard housing that was discovered.

But members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, who have final say over making the payment, are taking issue with the audit and have so far refused to pay the fine.

The payment was on the supervisors’ agenda Tuesday, but it failed to garner the required four out of five supervisors’ votes. Supervisor Todd Spitzer voted against it and Supervisor Andrew Do was absent.

Despite his vote, Spitzer didn’t comment on the audit Tuesday. The only supervisor who did comment was  Shawn Nelson, who depicted the audit as penalizing the county for tenants storing too many things in their homes.

“This is ridiculous,” Nelson said.  “We don’t have the manpower to go marshal through these people’s places all the time.”

He compared the county failing the audit to parents failing an audit because their kids didn’t clean their rooms.

However, auditors reported conditions that went beyond a simple lack of cleanliness. They reported finding dozens of “conditions that jeopardized the security” of housing units, including “windows and doors on the first floor that do not lock,” “electrical problems or conditions that could result in shock or fire,” and “conditions that presented an imminent possibility of injury.”

Among the specific issues that the fine addresses is the county’s alleged failure to monitor contractors who perform some of the inspections on the housing units.

Of the 21 housing units auditors looked at that were supposed to have been inspected by contractors, “12 were in material noncompliance with HUD standards,” the audit found.

A county staff report, meanwhile, says that “no tenants have been harmed by conditions noted as deficiencies” and that the county has since fixed the sub-standard housing issues found by the auditors.

“Comprehensive training plans have been developed for both new and existing inspection staff, nine of whom attended off-site training in April 2016. Quality control desk procedures have also been updated,” the county staff report states.

Nelson asked the county’s legislative director to contact local Congress members to seek a rule change on the issue. “We shouldn’t be sending money back. There should not be a penalty,” he said.

This year’s HUD findings aren’t first time Orange County was found to have failed in its public housing duties.

In 1989, HUD’s inspector general found that Orange County “misspent money intended to rehabilitate housing for poor and low-income residents, causing some people to live in unsafe or unhealthful conditions,” according to the LA Times. County officials at the time adamantly disputed the findings.

Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article inaccurately referred to the federal government’s payment request as a penalty and/or fine. Federal officials confirmed after the article was published that it was a “request.”

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. He can be reached at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • OCservant_Leader

    You nailed it. Nepotism is how they implement the scams. The BOS sets the directive and there is an Art to pulling the scams off and silencing the employees.

  • John Claxton

    It appears the housing authority uses the same inspectors the fire authority uses!

    • OCservant_Leader

      Does anyone actually believe the OC Fire Authority forget to do all the Safety Inspections at the Private Propety Owners? Not a chance.

      They were paid a lot more in kickbacks and campaign donations to the BOS to conveniently NOT do the inspections. This is the County MO.

      They will pin it on some Chief who took their pension spike and Annual Leave payout as a thank you and then retire…right on time. This is all agreed upon beforehand. Managers who cover up the scams are promoted. I’ve seen this so many times.

      And oh – what if there is a catastrophe that could have been prevented? Guess who does the inspections to determine cause? The OCFA will never come to the conclusion that the fire and deaths could have been prevented by Safety-Fire Inpections. Yup- it’s the perfect scam.

  • John Claxton

    Nelson asked the county’s legislative director to contact local Congress members to seek a rule change on the issue. “We shouldn’t be sending money back. There should not be a penalty,” he said.”

    I keep saying the same thing every time I get a bill from the IRS. Nelson some how believes that the BOS are the supreme beings of all things in OC and the law should be what ever he says it should be! These are code violations Mr. Nelson! You just rewrote the book for every single violator your own code enforcement unit have written citations/fees to. And this guy wants to be a judge?

  • Jacki Livingston

    I have been on both sides of this fence, as a tenant with HUD and as a property manager. The BoS clearly does not understand what is going on at OCHA. There is a ten year wait list for vouchers, and the workers there are way overburdened. Some, sadly, have set up a little cottage industry. They don’t use normal County hiring procedures, at all, instead they hire as much of the agencies do, using friends and family. They take gifts, and suddenly someone way back on the list is bumped waaaaaay up. Make someone mad at the County? You will end up in voucher Siberia, never rising on the list. Those are absolutely true facts, seen it first hand. Is anyone surprised? Look, any agency that shells out large sums of money is only as ethical and honest as it’s leadership. The two agencies who shell out the most are Housing and SSA, and they are the dirtiest. The temptation is too great. The leadership is too weak. The Board? They don’t care. Until the taxpayers and voters punish the elected politicians, nothing will change.

  • David Zenger
  • OCservant_Leader

    The OC is a slum lord. It’s the OC business model. If the property owner has to put money into their property…then their profits go down.

    You will find throughout the County contracting…the County routinely fails to “inspect” or “audit” or “enforce” contract terms… in favor of the property/business owner.

  • Judy Allen

    If WE the taxpayers can afford to give away more than $500 million in Disneyland hotel subsidies for LUXURY, vacation housing, can we not afford $270 thousand to pay for safety concerns for SUBSISTENCE housing for low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled?

    • Jacki Livingston

      Sadly, Judy, they won’t. As a group, the poor and disabled do not vote. They generally don’t vote Republican. Seniors do vote, but they tend to focus on issues that the BoS does not deal with. Spitzer’s real motto is ‘No Votee, No Caree’.

      • Judy Allen

        Why are we (the taxpayers and voters) putting up with these sleazy, personal money grubbing, nincompoops on the BoS?

        It pains me to now know about the sleazy, self serving actions of these selfish monsters who make decisions about our tax dollars which do not benefit the residents (or animals) of Orange County.

        I pass the train station by the 57 freeway twice a day. I used to like the colorful lights. Now, it make me SO angry to think of the millions spent on this boondoggle that so few folks use.

        AND the Animal Shelter is another of my pet peeves…. sentient beings are slaughtered daily when all present and far sighted folks who care, totally recommend and work toward NO KILL!

        Can we not find candidates who see the future of all life as important? What is wrong with us?

        • Jacki Livingston

          We have become a county, and a nation, that values style over substance. Because of the media, fewer people are willing to run for public office, because who wants to put themselves through that? Social media, reality television….we have become an country where someone like Kim Kardashian becomes revered. Look at the current gang of five? Are any of these people someone you would actually invite into your home? We accept their mediocrity because we just want peace and some semblance of order, but we signed over our souls to get it. I knew, seven years ago, when I found the corruption and embezzlement, that there would be some flak, but I had no idea of the level of filth that would not just be thrown at me, but that would be rubber stamped as acceptable by those elected and entrusted with the good of the people. I literally begged them all just to look at the evidence, and they would not. I have a lot of friends, many live in OC and vote, and not one of them was willing to risk any kind of backlash. No one at my job was willing to speak out, not after they saw what happened to me, even people I really looked up to, and admired. You would have to find a candidate willing to take on the screaming masses, the press, the cost, the loss of privacy…it is a lot. How many of us have perfect pasts? I don’t. I do believe, with all my heart, that change can happen. I don’t think any elected official, judge or DA in the OC has the personal integrity to stand up and hold people accountable. I wish…really…that you and I and everyone reading this would get their friends and family together, and that they would send a card, a letter, anything, to all five of the board, with just one word on it…ENOUGH. Just one word. Imagine if everyone did that, got together and let these people know that they are on notice? Judy…we could change the world. ENOUGH. If Pokemon could be so big, why couldn’t ENOUGH be enough? Think about it.

          • Judy Allen

            Thank you for responding, Jacki. Seems we can do nothing but live with the misery of these self serving, egocentric officials. I’m sorry for your experiences and wish you well in the future….

          • Jacki Livingston

            Well, we go back to court on Aug 9th, so I hope your positive vibes get through.

          • John Claxton

            Good luck. It’s an uphill battle – I know.

          • Jacki Livingston

            Thank you, John, rooting for you, too. Maybe we should start a support group for former employees and current ones who have been chewed up and spit out by these criminal officials. I think it would be a big group…we might find a use for ARTIC after all!