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Georgia City with Questionable Land Grab Has History of Misusing HUD Money

A Georgia city that is carrying out controversial housing relocations has a history of misusing money appropriated for housing projects.

Earlier this year, Watchdog Wire reported on Augusta, GA’s troubled housing policies in its Hyde Park neighborhood. Residents are in the process of being relocated so the city can build a pond.

But residents told Watchdog Wire they keep hearing conflicting information about the project. One person said she heard they aren’t going to relocate everyone, another said he was told the city won’t be able to build the pond due to environmental contamination.

While the future of Hyde Park remains unclear, one thing is certain: the municipality taking the land has a history of misusing housing funds.

History repeats itself

shutterstock_30671707 (1)When the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development reviewed Augusta’s ability to meet its grant obligations, it suggested the city lacked adequate internal controls to monitor how it spent the money.

An audit memorandum dated September 24, 2010 noted the city’s lack of “internal controls in place to perform continuous and routine monitoring of its obligation process to ensure that its obligations were processed as intended and were valid.”

If only HUD had heeded its own warning. Earlier that year, the city was asked to repay $95,000 to HUD because grant money was given to people who weren’t poor enough to qualify for the program.

Two years prior, “the city had to repay $288,786 after a HUD Inspector General’s audit raised questions about HOME expenditures and missing documentation from 2003 to early 2007,” according to the Augusta Chronicle.

HUD-LogoHOME is the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which was created to give low-income families housing.

At the time, Assistant Director of Housing Hawthorne Welcher, Jr. said the city needed to be more careful with the money.

“But the bottom line of it is, all of us have to pay better attention because that can’t happen,” Welcher said.

Something happened, because in 2012, Augusta had to repay $344,000 in HUD funds used by the East Augusta Community Development Corp. to purchase a dozen lots.

Hawthorne Welcher Jr. spoke out again, telling the Augusta Chronicle that mistakes were made.

“This is a mistake that definitely will not happen again,” he said.

Watchdog Wire will have more on Augusta’s actions in Hyde Park in the coming weeks.

For more on the Hyde Park project, click here.

Josh Kaib

Josh Kaib is the Assistant Editor of Watchdog Wire. Twitter: @joshkaib

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