Misused funds, incomplete accounting and allegations of political influence are among the findings in a federal audit of the Omaha Housing Authority's operations over the last decade.
An 11-page summary of the audit issued this week by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, outlines a long list of problems spotted in a review of financial statements, board meeting minutes, internal memos and interviews with former and current OHA officials.
Some of the issues included in the report have been tackled with staffing changes and other moves by the OHA staff and board, but the auditors also provided a series of recommendations for continued improvements.
HUD has not yet released the full audit to OHA officials.
Among the findings:
ญญ— More than $2.5 million in federal funds was improperly transferred out of accounts meant for specific types of housing programs to help make other payments.
— Earlier, independent audits of OHA did not raise flags about problem transfers.
— “Inappropriate interference” on the board was exercised by elected officials who influenced OHA management on decisions about personnel matters.
— Poor financial reporting kept board members in the dark about OHA's spending and accounts.
— Tracking of OHA's building improvements was inaccurate and incomplete.
The independent auditors hired by HUD recommended that OHA set up more restrictions on its accounts, do more independent reviews and hire a finance director with significant experience in real estate management and HUD programs.
George Achola, OHA's attorney, said agency officials would wait to comment on the report until it had been reviewed by board members and OHA staff.
City Councilman Ben Gray, a member of the OHA board, said the agency follows state law, which allows elected officials to serve on housing boards.
He said many of the problems HUD found with OHA have been fixed. And he pushed back against allegations that he or other elected officials had acted improperly, calling the audit a “silly, simple-minded report.”
Gray said that there had been some problems with elected officials in the past but that OHA has gone through a considerable period of transition.
“If their feeling is that something was done inappropriately, file a charge, file a complaint,” he said. “Don't play the political game of trying to politicize this thing in an effort to get your way.”
Mayor Jean Stothert, however, said the audit could provide valuable information about ways OHA can improve.
She said she doesn’t want the Mayor’s Office to oversee the agency’s work but does support shrinking the OHA board’s size from seven members to five. Already, she has decided not to fill the position of one board member whose term expired.
She said she plans to thoroughly review the audit.
“I think it’s important once (an audit) is done, we don’t get defensive about it and argue about the findings,” she said.