Gov. Rick Perry has accepted the resignation of the head of the state’s housing agency, which has failed to handle billions of federal dollars to rebuild homes in the wake of Hurricane Ike and oversees a federal stimulus program plagued by questions of fraud and mismanagement.
The program, administered together with the Texas Department of Rural Affairs, has been shifted to the state’s General Land Office. Timothy Irvine has been named interim chief at Housing and Community Affairs.
Crushed beneath billions of dollars in federal disaster and stimulus weatherization funds, the housing agency is still scrambling to spend more than $92 million in what has been a troubled stimulus Weatherization Assistance Program, reported on extensively by Texas Watchdog.
The agency has taken more than two years to spend the rest of the $327 million allotted to it. It has stripped funding from a handful of its 44 original contracting agencies and has investigated dozens of instances of alleged fraud and bad workmanship. Out from under the burden of the Hurricane Ike disaster program, Irvine is confident the agency will not have to return any of its weatherization funding to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Gerber is on paid vacation until his departure date. A call by Texas Watchdog to his cell phone number was not returned as of Thursday morning.
In addition to Gerber’s departure, Perry asked J. Paul Oxer, a member he appointed in March, to take over as chairman of the Housing and Community Affairs board. The Legislature abolished the Department of Rural Affairs, a move recommended in 2005 by the Sunset Advisory Commission, turning over its duties to the Department of Agriculture.
“The problem had to do with putting the Ike recovery funding in the hands of two agencies, each with their own bureaucracies,” Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Perry, said Wednesday. “The General Land Office has played a role in disaster recovery in the past, and the governor has confidence in Jerry Patterson (Texas Land Commissioner) in getting this taken care of.”
Gary Hagood, chief financial officer for the Land Office, pledged Wednesday to have all of the HUD money spent no later than December of 2015. While insisting on not dwelling on past performance, Hagood expressed impatience that after nearly three years two agencies managed to spend just $200 million while Hurricane Ike victims lived in trailer homes.
“I don’t care about the history, I’m interested in streamlining, and if there’s stuff in the way I’m going to move it out of there,” he said Wednesday. “You had a bunch of people working with contracts that had no milestones. Now, we’re going to say if you don’t hit this milestone, we’re going to terminate your contract.”
Adding the Weatherization Assistance Program to an agency unprepared to get into the disaster recovery business was an unsustainable blow, Irvine said. With its welter of state and federal requirements and the cross-purpose goals of spending hundreds of millions of dollars quickly, efficiently and well, “We very quickly found out that drinking from a fire hose wasn’t that easy,” Irvine said.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.