A newly released audit from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development looks at the Omaha Housing Authority during the 2001-12 period and describes the major financial problems it faced.
OHA’s central problem was its financial laxity — above all, the transfer of more than $2.5 million in federal funds improperly from other accounts to cover needed costs. OHA is negotiating an agreement with HUD for repayment.
The findings in the new audit are along the same lines as those identified by an independent consultant (MDStrum Housing Services) in its top-to-bottom financial-administrative analysis of OHA in 2011.
The new audit fell short, however, by not making clear what OHA has done to respond to the problems.
We certainly wouldn’t claim that OHA has removed all headaches, but it is fair to say that the OHA board has done a good job in hiring an experienced, energetic new executive director, Clifford Scott.
He has demonstrated notable leadership skills, and he points to the sensible new financial management, retaining of a nationally recognized accounting firm and training procedures that OHA has been putting in place over the past two years.
Other recent improvements: The OHA board’s finance committee now has practical-minded members with valuable business experience, and OHA is in the process of hiring a finance director.
Another challenge the housing authority should address is ending the micromanaging by some members of the OHA board. The new audit states, in part: “Elected officials serving on the board have improperly influenced several management decisions.”
Governing board members are there to set policy and provide oversight, not to try to do the job of the professional management staff. This is the same micromanagement problem that the independent consultant identified in 2011.
OHA is making progress in digging itself out of a very deep hole. Reaching the goal of full stability will require renewed commitment and the highest professional standards from its leaders and staff.