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County snafu leaves housing funds unspent, officials say
County needs to spend $5 million on housing

Sunday, June 29, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County is sitting on more than $5 million in federal funds to help lower-income people get into decent rental housing and to buy homes, and an additional $5.6 million depends on officials spending the first sum.

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger's administration revealed the hitch, saying the program's planning and development director was "relieved of his duties" in April and replaced with a seasoned, outside pro. That happened nearly two months before the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development completed an audit.

Bad planning and accounting—not wrongdoing—caused the problem, and it happened under Stroger's late father, John, county officials said.

"It was found through a [federal] report, and then we immediately addressed it," Stroger spokesman Eugene Mullins said.

The audit stated that the program chief retired. He could not be reached for comment.

County officials want to spend $5.6 million in federal aid expected this year, but the federal agency said the county first must spend $5.2 million in money and interest received in years past but not spent.

In late May, Maurice Jones, who has nearly 15 years of experience in community and economic development, was brought in from Louisville to run the county program. He inherited a situation in which $2.7 million that the county received was not reported to federal housing officials, according to an audit by the agency's regional inspector general. The county also failed to put $641,000 in earned interest back into the program, the audit stated.

At least three projects to be paid for with federal money never got off the ground because they did not comply with housing department standards, Jones said.

Personnel changes, new projects, and plans for new accounting technology to get the leftover money spent will ensure more problems don't occur, he said.

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