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HUD inspector general is auditing Buffalo's public housing agency

The HUD inspector general is conducting a wide-ranging audit into how Buffalo's public housing authority spent tens of millions of dollars over the past two years.

Auditors from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Inspector General are scheduled to meet with Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority officials this week as the first step in an audit that is expected to take at least eight to 10 weeks to complete.

A spokesman for the Office of Inspector General said he is not aware of what prompted the audit. While some audits result from complaints, others are done randomly throughout the year as a way to ensure federal funds are being spent properly, said spokesman Darryl J. Madden.

This audit appears to be a routine review periodically conducted of housing authorities, said BMHA Executive Director Dawn Sanders-Garrett.

The last inspector general audit of the BMHA was completed in 2015 after then-Housing Authority Commissioner Joseph Mascia complained to the office about BMHA spending on police and outside attorneys.

That audit concluded that BMHA payments for police services were appropriate, but criticized the agency's procedures for hiring outside legal counsel, and questioned $211,000 in legal expenses.

Mascia is no longer on the BMHA board. He was kicked off in 2016 for making racist comments that were secretly taped while Mascia was having what he thought was a private conservation with a friend.

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Nevertheless, Mascia has remained interested in BMHA operations, and last spring contacted the Inspector General's Office to question some Housing Authority spending.

Mascia claimed that the BMHA spent $80,000 within the past two years on battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors that remain in storage because they are not compatible with the hard-wired system in BMHA apartments.

Mascia also questioned what happened to $350,000 he said the BMHA allocated for garbage trucks – also within the past two years – that were never purchased, and he asked the Inspector General's Office to follow up on the 2015 audit.

Mascia said he has not heard from the Inspector General's Office since filing that complaint, beyond getting confirmation that it was received, and did not know if the new audit is linked to his recent complaints.

Sanders-Garrett said she's unaware of the claims Masica raised with the inspector general last spring.

"The letter makes no references to, nor am I aware of, any complaints," Sanders-Garrett said.

The letter sent to the BMHA by the Office of Inspector General, dated Dec. 27,  says it will review how the Buffalo housing agency administered its operating funds from January 2016 through December 2017. The BMHA receives almost $18 million in federal operating funds annually, according to Housing Authority documents. That's about 40 percent of the approximately $43 million the BMHA receives  –  which also includes rents and other revenue – to operate  27 state and federally funded housing developments serving about 10,000 residents, according to agency reports.

"The objective of our review is to determine whether the authority administered its operating funds in accordance with applicable HUD, federal and authority requirements," the letter from the Inspector General's Office states.

The letter said the Inspector General's Office will meet with BMHA officials Thursday to discuss the audit. Two auditors will be working out of BMHA offices. The initial phase of their review will take about eight to 10 weeks. The results of that initial audit will determine if future work is needed, the letter states.

In preparation for the audit, the BMHA has been asked to provide the auditors with numerous documents from the past two years, including board minutes, contracts, and a list of current and closed bank accounts. Also requested is access to such documents as bank records, bills, vendor invoices, credit card statements and any correspondence between the BMHA and HUD offices.

The BMHA is cooperating with the request, Sanders-Garrett said.

"As with any site visit, the BMHA welcomes the OIS and will be ready to provide any information and access requested to perform the necessary review," she said.

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