Las Vegas Sun

April 15, 2014

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NLV housing board delays controversial budget

Confronted with employee outrage, the North Las Vegas Housing Authority board in a contentious meeting Tuesday delayed approving its annual budget and a severance package for staff members facing layoffs.

The commissioners have until May 11 to approve the budget. Three employees are facing layoffs in the preliminary budget, while two more could have their employment cut from full- to part-time.

About a dozen maintenance staff could also be transferred to the Housing Authority's nonprofit development arm and therefore lose retirement benefits.

The budget also recommended selling off vehicles owned by the authority, cutting merit pay and requiring employees to pay 25 percent of premiums on health, dental and vision insurance. Previously, only families of employees were paying this.

Half a dozen employees of the authority expressed anger during the meeting that they could face layoffs, while others accused the authority of unfair or discriminatory housing practices.

"They're making all the wrong cuts in the wrong places," said Donna Cleveland, an authority occupancy specialist.

Cleveland, who is facing a potential layoff, said that the potential changes could greatly affect the services the Housing Authority provides to low-income families and seniors in North Las Vegas.

The authority, for example, is considering cutting back the residency specialist to a part-time position. The residency specialist at the Casa Rosa & Rose Garden apartment complex, a low-income residency owned by the authority, provides multiple services for families and seniors such as computer classes and bingo sessions for seniors.

"Seniors depend on our services," Cleveland said. "They don't have family that are in their lives anymore, so the little activities like bingo or donuts in the morning brings them out of their apartments."

Michelle Baldwin, another occupancy specialist with the authority who could lose her job, said she had routinely felt discriminated against by upper management at the authority and feared retaliation for expressing herself openly at the meeting.

Baldwin, who has been employed with the authority for 11 years, said the potential staff cuts were targeting lower-level employees and not the higher administrative positions.

The commissioners, however, pushed back approving the agency's budget and severance packages for at least a few weeks while the authority attempts to find a solution to the budget problems, said authority chairman William Robinson.

"Something will be lost, but I don't want to see any employees lose their jobs," Robinson said. "We have a task ahead of us."

Don England, executive director of the authority, said he is aware of the complaints of discrimination that were raised and had either resolved the cases or was investigating them. He said he could not comment in detail about the cases because they involved personnel matters.

He said the authority is trying to find a solution to the budget cuts and financial constraints placed on the agency that won't involve firing employees -- that could include cutting back some non-housing programs.

"The Housing Authority has a primary function, and that is to provide housing," he said. "When there are budget cuts, the social services get cut first."

Despite an ever increasing need for more affordable housing in North Las Vegas, the federal Housing and Urban Development Department is providing $66,868 less in funding this year than in previous years, according to authority documents. The housing agency received $12.7 million in HUD operating and capital grants in fiscal year 2004, according to documents.

The authority, facing HUD cuts, is also looking at a potential deficit in its $14 million budget for the second year running, according to a recent independent audit of the agency.

Besides revealing problematic accounting practices at the agency, the audit also detailed how the agency recently defaulted on a multi-million dollar Nevada State Bank loan for the low-cost Desert Mesa housing subdivision.

Desert Mesa a 123-home, low-cost housing development at Carey Avenue and Commerce Street, could be foreclosed on if the authority doesn't secure financing by May 2.

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