EXCLUSIVE: AHA Whistleblower Fired, Apparently over Millions in Underpayments to Families

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(APN) ATLANTA — Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) Whistleblower Anthony Bostic believes he was fired this Monday in retaliation for his documented investigation into millions of dollars total in apparent AHA underpayments to thousands of relocated families in public housing–and planned underpayments to possible future relocated families–Atlanta Progressive News (APN) has learned from Anthony’s sister Joy Bostic and documents obtained from an anonymous source.

These underpayments–some described as for relocation assistance but most for utility bill assistance for relocated families receiving private rental vouchers–may have led to homelessness of many families formerly living in Atlanta public housing.

Bostic–an AHA insider who even supported and enabled AHA’s mass evictions and demolition plans– learned recently from a US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) specialist, Mr. Philip Fortenberry, about the underpayments, two memos obtained by APN show.

Families who accepted relocation payments but not vouchers–who may have been unemployed, underemployed, or underpaid, and ran out of money within months, thus becoming homeless–may have been entitled to more money under HUD regulations, HUD told Bostic, APN has learned.

At the same time, families who accepted vouchers may have been entitled to greater utility bill reimbursements each month. AHA’s strict rules state if a family does not keep up with their utility bill payments, they can lose their vouchers. Indeed, AHA Director Renee Glover has admitted it in writing, and many advocates have asserted this is one of the riskiest features of the voucher program.

“If your utilities are cut off for 3 days or more, will you lose your voucher?” City Councilwoman Felicia Moore asked Glover in a recent letter obtained by APN.

“Possibly,” Glover replied. “If the tenant is responsible for payment of utilities, then the utilities must be paid to remain in compliance with the Voucher family obligations. When the utilities are off, health and safety issues arise for the family and the entire building. A utility allowance is part of the Section 8 Voucher Rental Assistance provided to the family to support utility costs,” Glover wrote in a May 18, 2007, response to Moore and resident leaders.

What we’re now learning is that AHA apparently shortchanged thousands of families from public housing communities which have been redeveloped in recent years–and this may have led to many additional homeless families.

What’s more, residents and advocates are asserting the reason AHA did not give the full entitled amounts–and did not plan to do so in the future–is because they did not have enough money. Moreover, they believe promises made by AHA in regards to the funding of the very vouchers themselves are based on unfounded hope, but not certainty, that these vouchers still will be federally funded and available after just a couple years.

APN has also learned that residents, advocates, and lawyers are working together on a class action lawsuit on behalf of all the apparently shortchanged families, in addition to other planned legal actions.

WHISTLEBLOWER SEES RETALIATION IN FIRING

“It is good to know others recognize the injustice and are so to shine a light [sic] on the issues at hand,” Anthony Bostic, reached at his personal email, told APN.

“At this time I am not comfortable speaking with the press about my wrongful termination issues until I receive legal counsel which should be soon. I will however follow-up in accordance wit [sic] counsel received,” Bostic wrote.

Bostic’s sister, on the other hand, was more free to discuss her understanding, and concerns, about the matter.

“My brother was not feeling very comfortable with some of the things going on. He did a little further investigation, talking with some of the folks from HUD and got information contradictory to what Cindi Herrera [his supervisor] was telling him to do,” Joy Bostic told Atlanta Progressive News in a phone interview.

“She’s telling him to follow procedures a certain way but they’re HUD procedures. When he talked with a person at HUD saying this was wrong, he felt uncomfortable so much so that he and I had a conversation about it. He started documenting conversations,” Joy Bostic said.

Bostic was a Director responsible for the relocation of the residents in Atlanta, his sister said.

“He started there last March or April, [and between then and] this April he was promoted twice. He had 2 position title changes to the point where he was the Director,” Joy Bostic said.

“There wasn’t any mention of him having any issues with how he was carrying on,” she said, adding she believes this is evidence of retaliation.

“He was with the Housing Authority in Charleston [South Carolina] as well. He was also with a consulting company with Fulton County Housing Authority,” Joy Bostic said.

“According to him, there’s nothing in his personnel file that he was poorly performing. He was never given an opportunity to improve [if there was a performance problem],” she said.

“Thousands of dollars were not awarded to these residents. The way it happened, HUD has approved thousands of dollars to go with them. Cindi Herrera said no we’re going to make a cap. For some people, [the payments] may have been thousands more,” Joy Bostic said.

“It was brought to her [Herrera’s] attention and she totally ignored it. She said it’s going to cost AHA a lot of money. She said no we’re not gonna do it, rather than try to rectify,” Bostic said.

“If you make a mistake, once you realize you make a mistake, let’s acknowledge the mistake, that you’re gonna rectify it and this is how,” Bostic said.

“He’s trying to wrap his head around what has happened and what his next move will be. Will there be hardship? Yeah probably,” Bostic said of her brother. “Ultimately he would like to be reinstated I believe. He loved working with the residents but I do not believe he’ll go back if she’s [Herrera’s] still there.”

UNDERPAYMENTS EXPOSED, IGNORED BY AHA

“I must admit I am uncomfortable,” Anthony Bostic, wrote in an April 26, 2007, memo, to his supervisor at AHA, Cindi Herrera.

“You have one interpretation that conflicts with Philip’s [Fortenberry, HUD specialist] interpretation. A portion of my discomfort arises from Philip’s official position as HUD’s Regional Relocation Specialist regarding the Replacement Housing Payment.”

“If Phillip’s professional opinion is correct and upheld, then we are not giving residents the full benefit,” Bostic wrote.

“He mentioned in calculating comparable housing expenses and determining any gaps, the actual projected utility cost must be used; that the utility allowance was not acceptable as it is based on bare minimum usage (his suggestion was to call the utility company to get the monthly average for utility cost for the past year for each unit use for relocation, even units leased under the voucher.),” Bostic wrote.

“Even units leased under the voucher,” is a key detail.

“In light of the current political and advocacy activity and the threat of a lawsuit/injunction I am further uncomfortable with the possibility of our relocation practices being scrutinized, thus making the agency liable,” Bostic wrote.

“To date we have issued 15 Replacement Housing Payments to Residents of McDaniel Glenn Annex, John O. Chiles, and University. I anticipate the issuance of 10-20 more this year,” Bostic wrote.

The RHP’s were for families who chose a one-time payment over the voucher program, resident advocate Diane Wright said. Meanwhile, thousands chose vouchers and still were eligible for utility assistance.

In a second memo dated April 27, 2007, Bostic continued “Philip… went on to say that for both the 42 Month Rent Deferential [sp?] and the Section 8 Voucher we have to account for the best estimated cost for utilities.”

Bostic estimates in this memo that if a single family was shortchanged $60 per month for 42 months, that equals $2520 per family.

Wright tells APN she estimates at least 5000 Atlanta families have already been relocated under the HOPE VI program.

If 5000 families were shortchanged for the full 42 months, that would equal $12,600,000.

If 5500 additional future relocated families were to be shortchanged, that would equal $13,860,000.

Therefore, over $26 million appears to be at stake, and of course, this means money to pay for mandatory on-time utility bill payments for families with vouchers under the HOPE VI.

“If we adopted Philip’s opinion, not sure how far back we would have to go to issue benefits that people previously relocated,” Bostic wrote. “This is a significantly added expenses for AHA.”

“This will address residents’ concern that the Utility portion of the HCV will lead to homelessness as residents will not be able to afford them,” Bostic wrote.

RESIDENT LEADERS LIVID

“I feel that it’s good to come out. And the reason why, they first tried to say that we wanted to stay in public housing and everything they was doing was great but people didn’t know what was going on behind AHA schemes,” Diane Wright of Hollywood Courts and the Jurisdiction-Wide Council, said.

“I was getting calls from residents that they couldn’t come up with their utility money, they was getting evicted,” Wright said.

“What needs to happen is a full audit. A audit would find out about where that money is and how much money they have to cover the vouchers and the utilities people would need to be able to live. And also we need to hold HUD in Atlanta accountable, and AHA. But HUD is allowing it,” Wright said.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.

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