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July 29, 2014

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Housing authority slashes budget, programs

The North Las Vegas Housing Authority will lay off four employees and reduce the services it offers to low-income families -- including after-school programs for children -- to reduce costs after running hundreds of thousands of dollars in the red in the last two years, the authority's executive director said Wednesday.

The agency's financial situation is so dismal that all employees will also face one week without pay during the next fiscal year in order to offset any budget shortfalls, said Don England, executive director of the North Las Vegas Housing Authority.

The cuts were included in the agency's $14 million budget, which was approved by the housing authority's commissioners on Wednesday during a regular monthly meeting.

The commissioners also approved a local developer, Joshi & Associates, as the exclusive consultant to the authority. Joshi & Associates will advise the housing authority on current and future development projects such as possible mixed-income housing developments, England said.

Joshi & Associates is also set to purchase the housing authority's Desert Mesa low-cost housing subdivision project, a low-cost development community to be built at Carey Avenue and Commerce Street.

The Desert Mesa housing development has faced numerous setbacks, including millions of dollars in cost overruns, difficulties with subcontractors and threats of foreclosure. The housing authority already defaulted on a loan to Nevada State Bank for the $20 million Desert Mesa project and owes the bank $1.9 million.

Commissioner Robert Eliason said the North Las Vegas Housing Authority is facing an 11 percent reduction in federal Housing and Urban Development funds, making the cuts a necessity.

According to documents, HUD will reduce the amount of funding by $66,868. HUD provided the authority $12.7 million in operating and capital grants in fiscal year 2004, according to housing authority documents.

Eliason said that the housing authority had not been vigilant enough in monitoring all its employees over the years, and that some employees were not efficient or not working.

"There is probably some dead wood at the housing authority," he said. "We need to implement a checks and balances system."

Eliason, however, praised the staff at the authority for giving up one week of pay during the next year.

In order to balance the authority's budget, the housing authority will cut a variety of services and expenses, including eliminating car allowances for management staff, cutting out birthday and merit pay and selling two vehicles used to transport low-income clients to the grocery store and other places, according to housing authority documents.

But the authority is facing more drastic cutbacks, such as the elimination of the housing authority's development department and laying off four employees, including the accounting clerk and special assistant to the chief operating officer, according to authority documents.

The authority, however, will also change two positions, reduce senior accountant and resident services coordinator, to part-time jobs. The resident services coordinator, according to England, is responsible for providing services to children from low-income families, including after school programs.

Other housing authority staff said previously that the resident services coordinator, at the Casa Rosa & Rose Garden apartment complex, a low-income residential housing complex owned by the authority, is responsible for computer classes and organizing events for seniors as well.

"I don't like cutting any position, but by law we're not allowed to raise rents," England said.

He said the lay-offs are sure to reduce morale at the housing authority.

"It's going to get worse. Already it's not a pleasant place to work," he said. "The outlook for the future is bleak."

The housing authority has faced financial problems in the past. Last year, the agency faced a nearly $400,000 deficit, according to a recent independent audit.

The audit also pointed out abundant problems with the authority's Desert Mesa housing development, a project that originally came with a $14.1 million price tag that eventually grew to $20 million.

England was confident, however, that Joshi & Associates, the local developer, will purchase the 123-home subdivision. The housing authority had a May 2 deadline to secure financing for the Desert Mesa project, but was granted an extension.

England expressed satisfaction that the commissioners approved Joshi & Associates as the sole consultant for the authority. As the consultant, Joshi & Associates will, for example, propose to purchase or develop an apartment complex and may set aside various units for low-income housing, said England.

The housing authority could then vote on whether or not it wants to be involved in the proposed development.

If it does, England said Joshi & Associates will assume all costs and responsibilities for the project and the housing authority could possibly manage the development and its low-income units.

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