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Cohen Announces $6.7 M in Federal Public Housing Funds for Memphis

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; February 12, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today announced $6,701,299 in federal funds to help improve and modernize public housing facilities in the Ninth District. The Memphis Housing Authority will receive a total of $6,589,736 and the Millington Housing Authority will receive $111,563 in 2015 Capital Fund Program grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“Quality, affordable housing is crucial as Memphians work to pull themselves out of the recession,” said Congressman Cohen. “Many of these housing units are in need of large-scale improvements, including repairing roofs, replacing old plumbing or electrical rewiring. The infusion of these federal funds will help the Memphis and Millington Housing Authorities make further investments that will make public housing more sustainable.”

This announcement is part of nearly $1.8 billion in public housing grants awarded nationwide, and more than $47.6 million awarded statewide in Tennessee, by HUD today. The Department’s Capital Fund Program provides funding to local public housing agencies to build, repair, modernize, and renovate public housing facilities in their community.

Cohen Announces $7M in Federal Grants to Address Homelessness in Memphis

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; January 26, 2015:

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today announced 34 federal grants totaling $6,909,905 to help local community organizations reduce homelessness in the Ninth District. This funding comes through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Continuum of Care program, which is designed to promote communitywide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness.

“This significant infusion of federal funding will help our communities and our local organizations work together to reduce homelessness in Memphis and improve the lives of individuals and families who are at risk of falling through the cracks,” said Congressman Cohen.

The 34 grants announced today include grants to the Memphis Strong Families Initiative, the organization One Door at a Time, the Beers-Van Gogh Center of Excellence, the Breaking the Cycle Shelter Plus Care nonprofit, and the Memphis Family Shelter. HUD’s Continuum of Care program provides funding to help non-profits, State, and local governments quickly rehouse homeless individuals and their families while minimizing trauma and dislocation. The program also aims to promote self-sufficiency among individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

HUD Auditors Fault Memphis for Shoddy Home-Improvement Program

Residents of Memphis receiving government loans for housing repairs instead got stuck with termites, leaking roofs, and air conditioning systems that barely mitigated the 100-degree heat, federal auditors have found.

Auditors with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reviewed work by the city on 65 homes, finding problems with all but four of them, including holes in the walls stuffed with newspaper, leaking pipes, and a breaker box held in place with duct tape.

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In 14 homes, the installed HVAC units were the wrong size, leaving residents sweltering in 95-degree heat, just 5 degrees under the temperature outside. WREG News Channel 3 has more woeful tales, after speaking with residents in the affected neighborhoods last week.

Under the Housing and Rehabilitation Program, homeowners receive deferred-payment loans for work to make repairs and bring their houses up to code. The city hires contractors with federal tax dollars. Auditors looked at a sample of home repair contracts, or $1.6 million of the $3.9 million in projects undertaken in 2010 through 2012.

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They found $400,000 in projects that were not completed or had workmanship problems and estimated that if they had audited all the homes repaired during the three-year period, the figure would have been twice that much.

The city in its response said it would return $19,864 for work that was not completed and fix the faulty work worth $381,855 uncovered by auditors. The city said in its response that home inspectors had been disciplined and were no longer employed by the city and that some contractors had been dropped. The city said it had worked to fix the work on homes that failed to comply with building codes and had stopped taking new applications in May 2012 after complaints from homeowners emerged.

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The audit points to a lack of staff to oversee a program, noting that one person had been responsible for managing all the city’s housing construction programs, not just the home repair effort. The city failed to properly inspect the work under contract or fine contractors for missed deadlines, auditors found, suggesting the policy favored the interests of contractors over that of homeowners.

Accordingly, “a homeowner did not have access to the only bathroom with shower facilities for eight months. … Another homeowner had to endure sewage backing up in the tub for more than a month because the contractor took an extra 50 days to complete the contracted repairs.”

Homeowners had turned to a city government that has shown other recent evidence of mismanagement. Last year, the state comptroller held out the prospect of taking over the city’s finances if leaders there failed to pass a budget or show better stewardship of city funds. Wilson’s office found city funds that had been in the red going back two decades, according to WMC Channel 5.

Messages for city Housing Director Robert Lipscomb were not returned Monday. Tennessee Watchdog reports he is on vacation until next week.

Photos from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development audit of home repairs by city of Memphis.

Davis Picked to Direct Labor Department

Press Release from Bill Haslam, Gov.-elect of the State of Tennessee, Jan. 14, 2011:

Memphian’s Career Shows Hands-On Experience with Workforce Issues

NASHVILLE– Tennessee Governor-elect Bill Haslam named Karla Davis as Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Since 2006, Davis has been Director of Urban Strategies Memphis Hope, managing and overseeing the Community and Supportive Services Program for three U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) HOPE VI public housing redevelopment projects and two HUD ROSS Grant projects in Memphis.

Davis previously worked in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for 16 years, rising to become an Environmental Justice program manager covering six states. As program manager at the EPA, she focused on environmental and human health improvements and community revitalization in distressed urban areas.

“Karla Davis brings an outstanding record of accomplishment and management skill to the Cabinet, and I’m looking forward to working with her to help Tennesseans,” Haslam said. “Her focus on helping to revive communities and families shows her commitment to making our state a better place, and I’m honored she is a part of the team.”

Davis is Chair of the Tennessee Local Workforce Investment Area 13 Youth Council and a member of the Memphis City Beautiful Commission and Shelby County Families First Advisory Council. For the last three years, she has been a member of the Annual Grants Committee for the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis and she’s a member of Leadership Memphis’s Class of 2009.

“I’m honored to accept this appointment, and I’m thrilled to serve Tennesseans,” Davis said. “I look forward to working with the great staff at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Many challenges face our state and our workforce, and I know we can work together to affect positive change in Tennessee.”

Davis has a bachelor’s in Bioengineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She and her husband, Terence, reside in Memphis, Tenn.

Knox Co. Gov’t Employee Who Stole $67K: ‘I just wasn’t thinking’

A Knox County official who stole $67,000 in housing funds will be on probation for three years, according to a judge who urged him to “be a productive citizen” at his Tuesday sentencing hearing. The judge seemed baffled by the theft, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel report:

“The first thing I thought when I read your (presentence) report is why on Earth didn’t you just go down to the bank and get a 90-day note or something,” Senior U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan asked of former Knox County Housing Authority Assistant Executive Director William John Pollock.

“I just wasn’t thinking,” Pollock responded. “That would have been the prudent thing to do.”

Pollock’s defense attorney told the court that the theft was prompted by the funeral expenses incurred after his father’s death. The misdeed was exposed in a 2008 audit, which we’ve noted can be a fruitful source of information.

Read the full story here, which raises questions about another official who “kept quiet” about the theft.