Housing grants forfeited
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i's public housing agency was forced to forfeit nearly $500,000 in federal anti-drug grant money the past two years because the money was not spent in time, according to state and federal officials.
The refunds are the latest in a series of financial foul-ups at the Housing and Community Development Corp. of Hawaii, the state agency that oversees more than 10,000 units of public housing for Hawai'i's needy.
Sharyn Miyashiro, the agency's executive director, said through a spokesman that the agency planned to use the money to hire anti-drug personnel but could not because the agency was in the midst of "hiring restrictions." The agency didn't fill the jobs the equivalent of 3 1/2 positions quickly enough and the money had to be returned.
"I think overall we could have been a little more aggressive in filling the positions," said Bob Hall, Miyashiro's executive assistant.
Money from more recent federal grants have been "reprogrammed" and will be spent more efficiently, Hall said.
The money came from $2.7 million in grants given to the agency in the 1997 and 1998 fiscal years by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Public Housing Drug Elimination Program.
The state agency spent $2.24 million of the grants on programs meant to "eliminate drug-related crime and other criminal activities associated with drug-related problems," according to Darrell Young, the agency's information officer.
The money was distributed to such organizations as the Honolulu Police Department, Honolulu Community Action Program, Boys and Girls Clubs of Honolulu, the YMCA, Hawaii Dance Alliance, Child and Family Services, Coalition for a Drug-Free Hawaii and the Salvation Army, Young said.
But in each of those two years, the agency failed to spend $231,000 most of it earmarked for hiring of staff to deal with drug-related housing problems and the federal government "recaptured" the unspent money, according to state and federal records.
The most recent loss of money was documented in a Sept. 11, 2002 memo to Miyashiro from Joyce Lee, director of the San Francisco regional HUD office.
"Since this (1998) grant has now expired we are recapturing the remaining $231,175 of unused grant funds," Lee said in the memo.
The Bush administration this year canceled the Drug Elimination grant program, but the agency still has two years' worth of grant money that must be spent by September of next year, Hall said.
For years, the Housing and Community Development Corp. of Hawaii has been under fire from federal officials for failing to spend millions of dollars in housing grant money and for misspending millions more.
In a May letter to Miyashiro, HUD Assistant Secretary Michael Liu noted that the state housing agency has chronically failed to spend housing grant money in a timely manner.
"HUD's California State Office reports that HCDCH has consistently required extensions of deadlines going back to its 1995 grant," Liu wrote.
He ordered the agency to spend up to $2 million to hire a consultant to straighten out serious management and organizational problems plaguing the Hawai'i agency and he clamped tight new restrictions on how it awards consulting contracts.
More recently, Liu and federal regulators have accused Miyashiro of a conflict of interest in the award of a $787,000 state contract. Auditors also reported improprieties in the award and management of other large consulting contracts.
Gov. Ben Cayetano last week ordered the attorney general to investigate problems at the agency, including why key documents are missing from public files.
Reach Jim Dooley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 535-8447.