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BMHA avoids huge repayment of stimulus funds

The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority has to repay about $110,000 of federal stimulus money that was used to purchase furniture and equipment for its Perry Street headquarters.

The furniture was an “ineligible” expenditure of funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to a report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General.

However, the amount could have been much more – about $9.76 million more in questionable costs the auditors originally sought, until authority officials produced documentation to justify the expenditures.

In the context of the overall expenditure, $110,814 is not a “big deal” out of $9.76 million, said Housing Authority Board Chairman Michael Seaman.

“We’re not going to argue ... We thought it was best to just give them the money back,” Seaman said.

In 2009, the Housing Authority received more than $14.5 million in stimulus money.

Last November, officials said the bulk of it was spent on upgrades at Ferry Grider, LaSalle Courts, Commodore Perry Homes and Holling Homes for various projects like fencing and lighting.

The projects employed 227 people and seven prime contractors, who worked with 18 minority subcontractors and 11 Section 3 companies employing public housing or low-income people, they said.

The OIG questioned more than $9.33 million in costs related to general construction, business software and flooring, plus an additional $396,265 in contract change orders, architectural and engineering costs, and heating, cooling and ventilation costs that were not properly obligated before the March 18, 2010, deadline for Recovery Act funds.

Another $30,311 in “unsupported costs,” also was questioned by OIG, which recommended that the local HUD direct Housing Authority officials to provide documentation to justify how and why it spent the $9.76 million.

The Housing Authority provided the requested information, said HUD spokesman Adam Glantz.

“We had all of the documentation,” Seaman said. “It was just a matter of locating the documents and getting it to them. We found the documents in a reasonable amount of time for them.”

In the end, the authority only had to pay $110,814 in “ineligible costs” spent for equipment and furniture purchases for the boardroom of the Perry Street headquarters, including an interactive whiteboard, a wall-mounted projector, furniture and a Web-based scheduling system that was installed outside the boardroom.

Seaman said authority executives and officials were “a little frustrated” about having to repay the $110,814 because the conference room is multipurpose.

“It’s more than a boardroom,” he said. “It’s a meeting room, a training room, and it’s used by residents.”