EXCLUSIVE: Second AHA Whisteblower says Voucher Terminations Raised Concerns

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(APN) ATLANTA — A second Whistleblower from Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA), Christopher Anderson, has now come forward, telling Atlanta Progressive News (APN) that he was in charge of recommending voucher recipients for termination of their benefits when utilities were unpaid.

Anderson expressed concern to AHA at the time because he was finding time and time again the amount of the AHA-provided utility subsidy for voucher recipients was insufficient and leading to the homelessness of many families. That concern went ignored, he said.

Anderson’s testimony to APN comes on the heels of our reporting on another AHA Whistleblower, Anthony Bostic, who notified AHA supervisor Cindi Herrera that the utility payments were not only insufficient, but inconsistent with HUD’s federal rules and related legislation. Bostic’s sister spoke with APN a few days ago, to elucidate on the leaked documents showing Mr. Bostic raised those concerns in late April 2007.

Anderson also describes a ruthless regime at AHA under its Director, Renee Glover, where he says dissent is openly oppressed.

“We were putting some of the participants in situations for failure,” Anderson, a former AHA Compliance Specialist who recently resigned, recalled in an interview with Atlanta Progressive News. Anderson worked for AHA from July to November, 2006; worked previously for the Atlanta Police Department; and is now a real estate agent in Atlanta.

“I concur with what he [Bostic] said because a lot of people were being terminated because of their utilities,” Anderson said. “The amount of money we were giving them was absolutely unrealistic.”

Anderson said he believed based on his experience with the residents working directly on this issue, that the utility allowances provided were only “one third to one half” as much as they needed to be.

“At least was 20 or 30 families were terminated,” for lack of payment of utilities, during Anderson’s four month tenure at AHA, he said. “It may have even been more.”

AHA Director Renee Glover admitted to the utility-related evictions recently in a May 18, 2007, letter to City Councilwoman Felicia Moore and resident leaders.

“If the tenant is responsible [per their lease] 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.

“I had mentioned to Kentrye [Johnson, Compliance Supervisor, who answered to Cindi Herrera] and others, we’re terminating people for utilities… and the water here is twice as high [in Atlanta versus other cities],” Anderson said.

“It seemed like they measured the Compliance Department, in how many families we were able to successfully terminate. It was almost as if—We were encouraged to see our cases were all tight. There were probably 30 to 40 different reasons they could get terminated for. We would put the burden of proof on participants,” Anderson said.

“There were some things I thought were not fair. There was not a lot of trained or preached compassion. It was just do your job and just terminate these people,” Anderson said.

“[AHA said,] The goal is we want to get as many people off as possible, to open up the waiting list in 2007. You get as many people off today [as possible],”Anderson said.

“I had some questions with ethics while I was there,” Anderson said.

As recently revealed in APN, Mr. Bostic tried to convince AHA to revise its utility bill policies in April 2007, after he learned they were not compliant with HUD standards.

Mr. Anderson said, though, he never knew about the HUD standards, that he received his directions directly from AHA, and that he resigned before Bostic received the information. Anderson said the concerns he raised had more to do with what was happening to the families, than any knowledge about HUD regulations.

“Of course I’m extremely disappointed because I find out, first, I wasn’t the only one there who thought it was a problem. It’s very disappointing to know AHA was aware of it even at Cindi Herrera’s level and they just ignored it,” Anderson said.

Anderson said it was his job to notify residents in writing they could lose their voucher if they did not schedule an adversarial hearing with AHA within 15 days, if their utilities were discovered to be turned off in a regular AHA inspection of a voucher-subsidized apartment.

“I do remember people asking me questions like, What am I gonna do now? What can I do now? Where are me and my family gonna go?” he recalls.

“Some of the people I terminated… I remember thinking, well, Where is the family going to go? They need to have a support structure. They’d better have some type of family structure,” he recalls.

“When he [Bostic] was talking about people being made homeless, I thought that was right on the money. When you go to Section 8, you do that because it’s a last chance, you don’t have another option. These people we’re dealing with are not all criminals or people trying to get something for free. They’re asking for our help and of course everything isn’t perfect but we need to learn to offer some compassion,” Anderson said.

“They started making it seem like Housing Choice Vouchers were for the elite,” Anderson said of the strict enforcement of many rules upon the residents, with some like the utility bill requirements impossible for comply with.

“[The utility rules] application was a blanket policy void of any type of compassion or exception to the rule. It was almost like a computer program,” Anderson said.

MORE PROBLEMS WITH “CATALYST PROGRAM” ALSO REVEALED

Anderson also said he was responsible for implementing the so-called Catalyst Program requirements for current voucher recipients, where they had to be working 30 hours a week or more, or in an equivalent educational program.

AHA recently backtracked a bit on their Catalyst practices, after APN, residents, and advocates revealed in public hearings that many families who had legitimate reasons not to be working–illness, childcare issues, and others–were slipping through the cracks and receiving eviction letters.

Now, AHA’s Renee Glover says a case worker with a social work background will review each family for possible exemptions or extensions, APN revealed a couple weeks ago in an exclusive report.

Anderson was able to shed more light on why AHA’s mass evictions related to the work requirements were so chaotic.

“It was so convoluted and difficult. The housing specialist was supposed to go into the computer,” to provide information on exemptions for each family, Anderson said.

“If the worker did not put that info in, that person is gonna show they’re supposed to be working when they really aren’t [required]. They would send out hundreds and hundreds of letters that they have to get a job or prove they were disabled, and what would happen, the participants wouldn’t call the right person,” Anderson said.

Anderson described a new “call center” as a big part of the communication breakdown between residents and AHA. “The new call center is probably the worst thing to happen to AHA,” he said, adding many residents couldn’t navigate the automated system.

OPPRESSIVE ATMOSPHERE DESCRIBED

“The environment there is so oppressive. No one is allowed to speak out against Cindi Herrera,” Anderson said.

“I also wrote an anonymous letter to the Human Resources Department of AHA regarding the blaring racism and mistreatment of certain ‘groups.'” Anderson wrote in an email to APN. In an interview he added he thought Black employees of AHA were disproportionately given less desirable jobs than White employees.

“That letter caused little if any result and only dissuaded any other victims from speaking out. Apparently, Human Resources (Carolyn McCrory), Barney Simms, Cindy Herrera, and Renee Glover had a Staff Meeting to send the word that, Anyone who disagrees with our tactics can leave or be fired,” Anderson wrote.

“Lastly, I can concur the accepted environment at AHA was, if you were willing to speak out, you would be fired. Anthony’s [Bostic’s] assertion of retaliation is probably accurate,” Anderson wrote.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for Atlanta Progressive News. He 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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