53° Cloudy

Housing authority sees marked improvement

Published 11:18 am Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Showcasing what board members see as a positive improvement, the VHA formally announced its 2013 Public Housing Assessment System score Tuesday, a 14 point increase from its previous grade. 

The scoring system is used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to categorize all housing authorities in the U.S. A grade of 90 or above is considered a high performing housing authority, which comes with looser regulations and more autonomy. A score between the ranges of 70-89 is considered standard, and anything below that receives a troubled ranking and is labeled by HUD as a cause for concern.

The VHA sits right at the cusp of high performance, falling just below the mark with a score of 86. But despite barely missing the cutoff, the VHA has enjoyed a swift upward climb under current executive director Bennett Washington. Washington took over the association in 2011 when the VHA was designated a troubled organization with a score of 56. Under his guidance, the housing authority has pieced together a more fiscally responsible and hands on policy that has overseen a 42 percent increase in PHAS score in three years.

“From a financial standpoint, we had to make some cuts. Unfortunately we had to eliminate some positions. We did that first,” Washington said. “The next thing obviously is to look at where we’re spending money. We had to get that under control.”

When Washington took over in 2011, the VHA was going through a transition period in which the organization had no executive director. To make matters tougher, HUD began slicing the money it allocated to its housing authorities. After gauging the financial situation, Washington set out to make smarter purchases that benefitted the housing authority’s checkbook along with its properties.

“We try to order in bulk and maybe four times a year make major purchases. That has cut down significantly,” he said. “We’ve gotten better rates on our appliances by making bulk purchases.”

As new executive director, Washington was also able to reclaim HUD funds.

“I saw where we could save money. Also, HUD cut quite a bit of money, and I was able to recapture some of that money and prove the point that it shouldn’t have been cut, which they gave us an opportunity to do when they made those cuts,” he said. “I was able to get some of those funds back.”

A PHAS score looks at a housing authority’s management, monetary allocation and property maintenance to determine its rank. Each unit is inspected and is given a score, and then added up and averaged for a final report card grade.

Board members have said they are fervently striving to reach the 90 mark. Challenges to reaching that score include old properties and late tenant payments.

“It’s tough to get to that 90,” Washington said. “But we’re going to try to do it and hopefully we can get it.”