The Pasco County Housing Authority's Dade Oaks apartment complex has been so badly mismanaged it needs at least $1 million in repairs, according to federal housing inspectors.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave the 34-year-old complex a failing grade after touring the property in May — a follow-up to the agency's audit last year of the Housing Authority. Dianne Morris, the agency's executive director who started in late April, got her first real look at Dade Oaks during the two-day inspection.
"I got an eye opener," she told board members during their June meeting.
"HUD could have taken us over, but they said they would give us one more chance," Morris said. "The physical inspector said he was pleasantly surprised with the improvements we've made. We still have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of changes to make, but we're headed in the right direction."
For starters, Morris immediately reassigned Dade Oaks' property manager, according to the report.
Authority Chairman David Lambert said the inspection revealed serious problems with the onsite maintenance and management.
"One of the reasons the apartments are in the shape they're in is because the apartment managers are not doing monthly inspections," Lambert said during the June meeting. "We spot-checked the manager's files, and they hadn't inspected some units in many years. That's the reason we're in the situation we're in now."
Lambert said that because the apartments weren't inspected, there was no ongoing maintenance.
"These units are in such bad shape, you can't send a maintenance crew in and turn it around in two days — it takes two weeks," he said.
HUD Supervisory Project Manager Nikki Spitzer recommended the authority hire outside contractors to renovate the apartments because the housing authority's maintenance staff was taking too long.
"Maintenance staffing has been inadequate, and there appears to have been little, if any, management oversight," she wrote. Crews often took as many as 45 days to respond to emergency work orders that should have been corrected within days.
Spitzer indicated that if the Housing Authority had not begun "substantial rehabilitation" by the time HUD returns to inspect the property again, the agency likely would demand that Pasco hire an independent property manager.
"Additionally, the board may want to consider the sale of Dade Oaks to an entity with sufficient capital to fully rehabilitate the property, and we would certainly support this action," she wrote.
Morris said the housing authority is not considering a sale at this point.
"We're looking at public funding, but we're also looking to see if we can get a loan so we can do all the repairs at once," she said.
The report revealed that former Housing Authority Director Karen Turner routinely used Dade Oaks rental income to subsidize other housing programs — a practice that is strictly prohibited by HUD.
"Because funds intended for Dade Oaks were used to fund other properties and programs, adequate funds have not been available to satisfactorily maintain the property," Spitzer wrote.
She estimates that in the past decade, the complex has lost $600,000 that should have gone into maintenance and reserves.
Spitzer said her team will conduct a similar management review at another housing authority complex, Hudson Hills Manor, in the near future. She described the conditions of the Hudson Hills complex as "slum-like."
Christine Allamanno, an attorney for Gulfcoast Legal Services, has been working with the residents in Dade Oaks and Hudson Hills to form tenants' associations. She described the practices by Turner and the former board as "contemptible."
"We're pleased with the HUD report," Allamanno said. "Of course, the residents already knew what was in there, because it's what they've been saying all along.
"What was so significant was now we have HUD who is validating them. The great thing is that HUD laid out a road map — this is what you need to do to fix it."