Las Vegas Sun

October 23, 2014

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City/County Q&A:

Nevada scenic-rivers link raises flag in audit of city housing program

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Some $6 billion in grants have been allocated throughout the Neighborhood Stabilization Program by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development since 2008, with most of that money aimed at helping local governments purchase and renovate homes for resale to those hard hit by the recession.

Nevada municipalities received about $100 million in federal grants.

Las Vegas received about $31 million. Thursday, officials will discuss issues of how that funding was handled in a report before the Audit Oversight Committee.

Was it a scathing report?

At first blush, it’s hard to say. The audit's table of contents makes it sound bad, though. “Property Management Monitoring Deficiencies,” "Lack of Monitoring of Non-Profit Agencies,” “Environmental Review Deficiencies” and other subheads are listed.

But rather than talking to city officials, who are hide-bound to give the rosiest of all interpretation of the report’s content, we turned to other people in the Las Vegas Valley versed in federal HUD issues in general, and more specifically the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

Do these people find the audit scathing?

Not really.

“It looks like more procedural issues,” one housing expert said. “It’s not like they found anyone embezzling money.”

So what were some of the problems listed?

The city contracted with an agency to manage the properties. After reviewing just nine of those properties, auditors found one issue in screening people for assistance. One home, for instance, was leased in 2011 to a four-person household. The total income of that household was $36,372; guidelines, however, said their income should have been no more than $32,550 to qualify.

Anything else?

HUD demanded environmental reviews of the city properties – which is weird since many of the homes have been standing for decades. Anyhow, the audit nitpicked in one instance where an Environmental Protection Agency website referred to is no longer valid. There also are few, if any, scenic rivers in Nevada. But that didn’t stop auditors from noting that a Scenic Rivers website in city documentation is no longer valid.

So are you saying the auditors shouldn’t have pointed these matters out?

Not at all. One of the housing experts we contacted, in fact, called the audit “very comprehensive.” He called the environmental requirements section “a crazy requirement anyway. … Wild and scenic rivers in Nevada? There aren’t any. Sure, it’s procedural stuff, but you still want it to be correct.”

Another said HUD officials rolled out the Neighborhood Stabilization Program so quickly "they made up the rules as they went along. So a lot of these issues found are more about, ‘How the hell do we run this program? And what are the rules we have to pay attention to?’ Because when it came out, some of those rules weren’t yet established.”

* * *

More than a week ago, you wrote about a vehicle burglary interrupted by George Harris, owner of downtown’s Mundo restaurant, Alien Tequila and a well-known local political activist.

Did they ever catch the two people Harris had in the sights of his Glock 9 mm?

As of Wednesday, Harris said no one had been arrested yet.

Is he growing antsy, given the fact that a vehicle was left behind by the male/female burglary team, as were cellphones and a purse?

Not really. Harris doesn’t have all the details yet but says the vehicle and some of its contents might have been stolen.

* * *

Citing neighborhood safety concerns, county commissioners last week ordered Mike Casey's chimps out of the southwest valley home they’ve been living in for two years. The order means they have to be out in 30 days, or just before Christmas.

But the chimps might actually be able to stay longer and do so legally.

How?

Within 10 days of the commission’s decision, he can appeal the notice of abatement,” which was mailed to him Wednesday, said a county spokeswoman. Typically, an appeal takes four to six weeks to be reviewed by a hearing master. That would give Casey roughly about 30 days at the residence.

* * *

Quote of the Week

“Thank you, Mr. Sisolak.”

– County Commissioner Tom Collins during Tuesday’s commission meeting, exhibiting a degree of nicety not always heard during the sometimes-contentious meetings. Observers of the congeniality say Collins, along with Sisolak and other commissioners, are trying to position themselves as the next commission chairman. That will require four votes – their own plus three commissioners – to win that seat. The vote typically occurs in January.

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