Is Casa Mira View too large to be monitored by the Section 8 Rental Assistance Program?
Fraud, drug use, and other criminal activity has been going unpunished in the county's so-called Section 8 subsidized housing program, with lax enforcement by officials causing multimillion-dollar havoc.
So says an August 3 report by San Diego County’s chief of audits, Juan Perez, following a lengthy investigation of the long-troubled subsidy program.
"The Section 8 Rental Assistance Program is a federally funded program that provides monthly rental assistance through the Housing Choice Voucher Program," notes the report.
"It is locally administered by the Housing Authority of the County of San Diego."
As reported here last month by Moss Gropen, the subsidy program is controversial in some parts, the most recent case being that of Casa Mira View, a vast apartment complex visible from I-15 in Mira Mesa that was built by Garden Communities, controlled by Minnesota Vikings owner Zygmunt Wilf.
Only two people to investigate criminal activity countywide
To keep track of criminal activity involving Section 8, two employees of the county housing authority's review and integrity unit are assigned full time to "investigate allegations of program abuse and potential fraud," the audit says.
Based on the document's conclusions, it's a lot to handle.
Auditors "identified over $3M of outstanding receivables that resulted from fraudulent overpayments” and "noted that only one case with a fraudulent overpayment of $25,120 was referred to the District Attorney for prosecution since July 2012 to date."
From July 1, 2013, through September 30, 2013, according to the document, the integrity unit "received 236 allegations of fraud and abuse. This equates to an average of 78 allegations per month or 936 allegations per year."
During the period of the audit, from fiscal year 2013 through the present, auditors sought to determine "whether the Program Review and Integrity Unit’s procedures are adequate to allow for thorough investigations of fraud, claims and complaints received."
According to the report, a "judgmental sample of 30 complaints of suspected program fraud and abuse was selected for detailed testing," of which 12 had issues regarding the "timeliness and adequacy of procedures followed."
Four complaints from 2013, involving an assortment of violence, criminal activity, income, and drugs, have yet to be dealt with, the audit found.
Though the county's housing agency "initiated the investigation soon after the complaints were received, there was no evidence of closure and resolution documented within the case files."
The auditors were told that the agency has "limited resources assigned to the unit which prevents them from addressing complaints received in a timely manner."
Making matters worse, auditors "found that investigation activities conducted for two complaints received in 2013 with allegations of criminal activity and drugs were not sufficient."
In one example uncovered by the review, an August 7, 2013, complaint "was referred by the Sheriff’s Department documenting that the people living in the unit had engaged in criminal activity (burglary)," but no follow-up investigation was conducted.
"Burglary is not an actionable offense"
By way of explanation, the agency staff told auditors "burglary is not an actionable offense per HUD regulations, as it does not affect the housing unit or individuals living in the unit. Therefore, further examination of the complaint was not deemed necessary."
The tenant "was eventually removed from the Section 8 Program in December 2014 as a result of an arrest due to the possession of illegal drugs in the unit," according to the document.
One meeting and drug allegations laid to rest
In another case, a September 2013 complaint alleged a participant in the subsidized program had committed "violations to the program including the use of drugs."
The document continues, "In addition, there were several complaints from the property management claiming the tenant was in violation of the terms of the lease by engaging in the use of drugs and disruptive behavior."
Says the audit, "staff held a conference with the participant and based solely on that conference cleared them of the allegations. There was no evidence within the case file that a follow up was scheduled."
In addition, six of the complaints reviewed — five of which were said to have involved criminal activity, three of them violent — were missing from their investigative files. As a result, says the audit, the housing agency "was unable to confirm if an investigation into the complaint was conducted."
In a July 28 response to the audit, Housing and Community Development department director Todd Henderson generally agreed with the report's findings and recommendations to set performance goals for “the timeframe in which claims should be investigated and resolved,” saying an update would be done by August 31.
"However, it is important to note that investigations can take anywhere from a few hours to several months or longer to conclude, depending on the complexity of the allegations and the information provided."
The letter adds that "a process for Quality Control review of the allegation log, files created, and files selected for investigation was implemented, effective July 1, 2015.
Regarding the making of criminal referrals, he wrote, "It is important to note that not all criminal activity is against program rules," but added, "effective immediately, case notes will be documented to reflect the status of the investigation."
In answer to the audit's finding of fraudulent overpayments, Henderson's letter adds that his department would revise its procedures "to include [district attorney] contact information, forms, and timeframes. It is important to note that [the housing department] has no discretion over which cases are accepted for prosecution by the District Attorney."
Adds the letter, "The process for engaging the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General will be similarly documented and included in the desk manual."