Housing Authority still battling past demons

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 14, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson

RESERVE – In light of the recent release of a scathing audit for the St. John the Baptist Parish Housing Authority, board member Iona Holloway said she is “disappointed” with the report and feels that “very little progess” has been made regarding cleaning up the Housing Authority’s administrative practices.
She also said that there were “too many steps to go through” when working with Executive Director Trina Henderson and that this problem is what is preventing movement.
Holloway uses desk clutter as an indicator of progress.
“There’s no paper on the (conference table). You used to walk in and see papers scattered everywhere. The paper is gone,” she said. “When we vote on something, I want to see something done. At least snatch one blue tarp off the buildings and start working on it.”
Holloway also seemed generally frustrated with the amount of time it is taking to rehabilitate the Authority’s storm-damaged properties but did not seem to have a thorough understanding of HUD policy and procedures necessary to facilitate the changes. In the next breath, however, Holloway said she knew that working with FEMA meant “taking baby steps.” She said the is under a lot of pressure to see the changes because the tenants of the community confide in her.
Holloway said she does not agree with all of the decisions Henderson makes but does not want to overstep her boundaries because she wouldn’t like it if someone tried to tell her how to do her job.
“The first thing they did when we became commissioners was to have a workshop. They said there’s a line of demarcation — don’t cross it. She takes care of data for the office and deals with personnel. The board sets policies for her to follow. We’re going to have to start making some benchmarks for the policies. Because we were in such a bind for a director, we kind of gave her the go-ahead,” said Holloway.
“Once we vote on it, I just leave it up to her to get it done. I don’t want to be like the previous board, always yelling and calling each other names and still not getting anything done,” said Holloway.
Overall, Holloway said she feels like Henderson is qualified to take on the job, but she just wants to see results.
“It was an overwhelming task. That’s why it looks like nothing is being done. That’s what irks me so. I want to see something completed,” she said.
The audit report revealed a number of problems with Housing Authority administration from the previous fiscal year. Several of the problems that surfaced in the report had been cleared. The report also states that Henderson had addressed the findings that were not cleared and is currently working to have them all resolved by the end of the current fiscal year. Henderson said she hopes that future audits will reflect the hard work she put into righting things.
Henderson said she is currently working with a “skeleton crew” and a minuscule budget but is making strides to improve the Housing Authority’s administrative practices, which were left in disarray during previous administrations. It will take time to correct such a large error, however. Henderson said more support from board members is the key to moving forward. She went on to say she feels like the board members do not fully understand the dynamics of the decisions they make and expect results too soon. Henderson said this may be because of a lack of experience.
She said she did want to be the cause of infighting but will do whatever it takes to correct the problems.
“There was a lot of wrongdoing. There were a lot of policies that weren’t in place (during the previous administrations.) I’m going to adhere to policies and procedures, and if that means stepping on someone’s toes to do right, I will do that,” she said.