RICHLAND — The Richland Housing Authority will physically close its doors today, but the agency will continue to exist until all of its financial liabilities are settled.
The housing authority board decided at a meeting Tuesday to stay together and meet as needed, but the agency's office building on Thayer Drive has been sold and the agency has to leave.
Acting Director Peggy Brown will work from her home, although she technically won't be an employee. She was paid a bonus to cover her time helping the board wrap up the agency's affairs. Brown has been working part-time at minimum wage for several months.
The housing authority is shutting its doors after years of financial troubles that culminated in the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development yanking the authority's Section 8 housing voucher funding when a HUD report revealed the authority couldn't account for nearly $500,000 in Section 8 money.
The report also found the authority had misused housing assistance payments and continued to allow a perceived conflict of interest it previously told state auditors was resolved.
But the board can't actually shut the agency down. That power rests with the Richland City Council under state law, and the council has said it won't deactivate the housing authority as long as any liabilities remain.
The board has spent the last several months selling off assets to pay debts -- including a fire sale of miscellaneous items last Saturday -- but still owns two Richland houses leased to Lourdes Health Network for housing for people with mental illnesses.
Because the houses were bought in part with grant money, they have to continue to be used as housing for mentally ill people. Pasco Housing Authority is negotiating to take over the houses, Brown said.
Remaining liabilities include about $20,000 owed to HUD, more than $32,000 owed to Benton City as payment in lieu of taxes and a $58,300 on the loan for the two houses.
A $50,000 line of credit with Banner Bank was paid when the bank deducted the money out of the housing authority's account a week ago, Brown said.
Housing authority board members originally told the Richland City Council they intended to resign today, but Chairman Britt Creer, Vice Chairwoman Theta Ellsworth and board member Liza Beam said they would stay on -- leaving just enough board members to be able to legally meet and make decisions until the agency is ready to officially deactivate.
Board member Al Rizzo, whose term would have expired Aug. 9, has tendered his resignation.
* Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org