AUSTIN (KXAN) — Problems with missed annual goals and missed opportunities resulted in “increased fraud and safety risks” with Austin’s home repair programs, according to the City Auditor’s Office.

A report released in December said the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office mishandled programs that help Austinites repair their homes.

“What they told me they would do seemed okay,” said Dave Hernandez, a homeowner in east Austin. “I was happy to have my house fixed up and continue to live here, but what upset me the most is the procedures they went through.”

Hernandez has been living in Austin since when he was born in 1951. His decades-old home holds a lot of memories.

“This is my home,” he said. “I continue to stay here and hopefully get to stay here until my time comes and everything.”

When the house needed some upgrades, Hernandez decided to use the city’s loan programs for home repairs.

“He told me that the floors were going to be redone,” Hernandez explained. “Make the house level again, and they were going to put new floors for me and everything.”

However, after they tore up the existing flooring, Hernandez said, his contractor told him, “We only have enough money to put floors in my living room and half the dining room and that’s all.”

He ended up having to forego a wheelchair ramp he was hoping to install, so he can get flooring back for all of his house. 

Hernandez also told KXAN the work the contractors did to cover up a four feet long crack on one of his walls ended up being not strong enough to even hold a picture.

After the contractors left, Hernandez secured horizontal wooden boards to a door frame to hang some lighter items. 

The city’s audit highlighted some problems that include what Hernandez experienced.

Some of their findings were:

  • Between fiscal years 2015 and 2017, NHCD’s home repair programs ended each year with approximately $6 million in unspent funds.
  • Although NHCD established policies and procedures for the operation of the Homeowner Rehabilitation Loan Program, NHCD’s oversight did not ensure all repairs were authorized, completed in a timely manner, or high quality.
  • While NHCD has designed processes to ensure compliance with various program eligibility requirements, documentation and oversight could be improved.

“It wasn’t a surprise, and we certainly appreciate the recommendations of the audit,” said Jeff Paterson, spokesman for the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development. 

He said NHCD is already in the process of addressing some of those problems outlined in the audit.

“We certainly identified that we need to be more involved in that process, and that’s what we’re doing now,” he said. “We’re redesigning our contracts to provide a little bit more oversight, monitoring and accountability for the city over the contractors and advocating on behalf of our residents. We’re changing the way in which we manage and oversee how those contracts are done over time.”

He said home repair programs help about 600 families annually. 

“You know, being a city service program, really the most important thing for our success is to make sure that we’re building that trust with our clients, residents, so that they have the confidence when working with us,” he said. “We’re going to be accommodating their needs, address their issues, so absolutely, that’s a commitment we’re going to continue to make going forward.”

The audit made some recommendations for NHCD.

Some of the goals with deadlines approaching include:

  • The Director of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development should update current department policies and procedures for the Homeowner Rehabilitation Loan Program to ensure the program operates effectively. Updates include, but are not limited to:
    • Specifying the frequency of progress inspections
    • Monitoring and acting on participant feedback
    • Developing measures for timeliness for the various stages of the process
  • The Director of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development should ensure that staff follows all established policies and procedures for managing construction activities in the Homeowner Rehabilitation Loan Program.