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Federal government will review Hattiesburg HUD program at mayor’s request

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Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker shared a story of a challenge he faced and how he overcame it, encouraging Forrest County Juvenile Drug Court graduates to write their own stories of overcoming drugs. Lici Beveridge/Hattiesburg American

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The federal government will conduct a review of one of the city of Hattiesburg’s Housing and Urban Development programs after Mayor Toby Barker requested the examination.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development notified the city Feb. 5 that it is initiating a survey review of the HOME Investment Partnerships Program after a referral from HUD’s Community Planning and Development Field Office in Jackson. That referral was made based on Barker’s request.

The HOME program helps provide decent, affordable housing, especially for low-income families.

In an October letter to the HUD Jackson field office, Barker asked for a “thorough analysis of all program areas,” for two areas — the HOME program and the Community Development Block Grants program.

“We would like to work collaboratively with HUD to identify any programmatic deficiencies — to locate and correct them promptly, yet comprehensively, in order to ensure the programs are effective as they can be within what regulations allow,” he wrote.

HUD had already looked at overall management of the HOME program during a monitoring review in late August. Monitoring is conducted periodically to ensure compliance with HUD policies.

At that same time, HUD also looked at the city’s financial management of Community Development Block Grants. It later issued a report, outlining nine findings and two concerns, most of which the city’s Urban Development Director Andrew Ellard said were “simple fixes.”

The one finding that was an issue was the city’s lack of an audit for 2015 and 2016. The city received the final 2015 audit in early December and was getting started on the 2016 audit.

In addition, in 2016, two men were indicted for misusing HUD funds. Artie Shaw of Picayune pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme. Prominent Hattiesburg pastor Kenneth Fairley recently had two counts of theft of government money overturned. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals remanded a conspiracy conviction to the U.S. District Court Mississippi Southern District to determine whether Fairley’s sentence should be changed in light of the vacated convictions.

In his letter, Barker said, given the recent history of the programs and several staffing changes, he believed the analysis would be beneficial.

“We understand a comprehensive review of all programs is not a small task, but it is important to the City of Hattiesburg to ensure that we are administering these programs as they are intended,” he wrote.

The review of the HOME program will begin Tuesday and is expected to take six to eight weeks.

The city has been asked to provide organizational charts and job descriptions of HOME program employees, HUD program audits and monitoring reports, internal reviews and program audits, annual city audited financial statements and other relevant documents and financial records.

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