Overlap of housing agencies creates waste in city, county

By getting rid of duplication with the Housing Authority of the County of King, Wash., or HACK, King County itself could save $500,000 a year -- a situation faced by many other communities in the US.

By getting rid of duplication with the Housing Authority of the County of King, Wash., or HACK, King County itself could save $500,000 a year.

''The duplication of functions has now reached such ridiculous and embarrassing proportions that it can no longer be justified to the taxpaying public,'' charges Jim Wiley, executive director of HACK.

There is clear duplication, according to Mr. Wiley, in housing rehabilitation , subsidized housing planning, housing referral and counseling (regarding unfair tenant-landlord practices), and in the administration of other block-grant housing programs.

''For example,'' he says in a letter to the county, ''every house repaired by the housing authority . . . is inspected by H (HACK) and CD (county) personnel on at least two different occasions.''

The county funnels federal money to HACK.

To understand the situation, it is necessary to know how the stage has been set.

King County isn't alone in its predicament, but to understand it, it is necessary to know how the stage has been set.

Ever since 1975, housing rehabilitation, subsidy, and weatherization programs have mushroomed, fed mostly by federal money. Housing help can range from low-interest loans by the Farmers Home Administration to community-development block grants.

In another example, federal authorities distribute about $175 million each year for weatherization, which typically is rehab work.

Funding goes to those that win the competition game -- the local government, for instance, or a special district or the housing authority, which is usually a political entity that is independent of the municipal government. Then a city or county may contract out actual repair work to a housing authority.

''Duplication can very easily happen,'' says William McKee, executive director of the housing authority of Columbia, Mo., although he denies there is any duplication in his agency. While duplication is likely in semirural areas, he reports, it also can occur in urban areas.

Local government and housing authorities or special districts compete for the same funding, Mr. McKee explains. ''You have to garner support for your agency and do the others in,'' he says, adding that each agency spends staff time on pursuit of grants.

''People try to make their programs grow,'' asserts James Broughman of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). To illustrate, in 1975 the initial Housing and Community Development Division in King County, Wash., had an annual budget of $1.5 million. By 1981, federal funding had escalated to $6.3 million, says Mona Jarman-Hirsch, acting manager of the division.

Duplication is possible, Mr. Broughman concedes, but any parallel functions have decreased.

''I suspect a fair amount of duplication happened in earlier years,'' he declares.

''Where duplication might occur now is where people in local government and the housing authority aren't talking to one another,'' Broughman explains.

In fact, King County Councilman Paul Barden puts it this way: ''I am concerned that the county's expanding involvement in housing has not been orderly or carefully coordinated with other agencies, resulting in duplication of effort, unnecessary staffing, and excessive cost.''

Both rival chiefs agree that waste exists. Wiley calls for consolidation of housing administration and subsidized housing planning under HACK. Tom Phillips, manager of the county division, wants to avert waste by bringing home-repair operations under one agency.

Further, Mr. Phillips says, HACK ought to accept the county's bid specifications. ''If there were standard bid specifications, there wouldn't have to be duplication,'' he says.

After several months had elapsed, the King County Council did take the $1.2 million weatherization program away from the county division and gave it to the housing authority and permitted the authority to continue to run the housing-repair program, according to Ms. Jarman-Hirsch. The amount of any savings is not known.

Doesn't the federal level exercise oversight? Raymond J. Struyk, writing in ''A New System for Public Housing: Salvaging a National Resource,'' isn't convinced that federal oversight is effective.

HUD field offices and housing authorities ''have little or no incentive to submit high-quality data, and the central (HUD) office has virtually no capacity for checking it, (so) the classic 'garbage in, garbage out' routine exists with a vengeance,'' writes Mr. Struyk, formerly of HUD. Fundamental accounting improvements are needed throughout the entire system, he insists.

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