City Ordered to Repay $1 Million in Federal Grant Money
By Dennis Domrzalski
The City of Albuquerque’s Department of Family and Community Services has been ordered to repay the feds nearly $1 million in grant money because of what one city councilor says is mismanagement at a city agency.
The repayment order includes $329,000 that the City Council recently was forced to siphon from drug-addiction treatment programs. The feds also want back a $600,000 grant made for the $16 million redevelopment of the El Vado Motor Court motel on West Central Avenue, which is behind schedule.
The city’s poor performance led the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to designate the city a “high risk grantee,” which means if City Hall doesn’t strictly abide by HUD rules, Albuquerque’s grant money can be frozen.
HUD first told city officials in March 2015 that it had deficiencies. HUD told the city it wanted the money back on April 6 and gave the city until June 30 to repay it. The final demand letter is dated Oct. 6. The City Council was informed by the Mayor’s Office in late October.
City Councilor Diane Gibson said the Department of Family and Community Services is mismanaged. She laid the blame on its director, Doug Chaplin, and Mayor Richard Berry.
“Doug Chaplin can’t run a program, and I think this is directly the mayor’s problem,” Gibson said. “I don’t think the man [Chaplin] should ever have been given the job.”
“I think there is just a lack of knowledge of federal regulations,” Gibson said.
HUD’s Oct. 6 letter cited nine areas of concern with the city agency’s administration of federal money. It singled out the $600,000 that went to buy property for mixed-use housing as part of the El Vado redevelopment.
The department’s spokesman, Bobby Sisneros, said construction on El Vado will begin in January. He said the city is asking HUD to reverse its decision about having to repay the money. The El Vado delay came about because the city listened to neighborhood concerns, which slowed the project, Sisneros said.
“Right now we are in the process of explaining the situation to them [HUD], and we are still waiting to hear back from them,” Sisneros said.
Chaplin was not available for comment.
As of Nov. 23, HUD was still looking to get the $600,000 back, HUD spokeswoman Patricia Campbell told ABQ Free Press Weekly. The other $329,364 is grant money on three programs HUD said didn’t meet the agency’s national objectives.
“In the case of the Law Access Program, the city was unable to provide documentation that showed the users of the hotline were low- to moderate-income,” Campbell said. “For the [Safe City] Strike Force project, the city was unable to document that the activity was a result of a disaster, and with regard to the Senior Retrofit program, the city was unable to provide documentation that the program was benefiting low- to moderate-income households.”
The city can’t use federal money to repay HUD, so the repayments must come from the city’s general fund.
Gibson said she’s also angry money had to be taken from Chaplin’s agency’s drug addiction treatment programs. The council approved the transfer of those funds on Nov. 21.
“The problem is that we can’t fund many of the programs and projects that are so important to children, families, senior citizens and people living without homes with local dollars. We absolutely need these grants,” Gibson said.
Sisneros said money the city repays HUD goes back into the city’s grant account and can eventually be spent on other HUD projects.
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press Weekly. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.