A workman in a small tractor breaks apart sidewalks leading to a vacant apartment complex littered with scraps of roof tiles that vandals have thrown at the building. Except for the sound of the tractor engine, the apartments are silent and ghostly. Inside the buildings, trespassers have smashed holes in the wall big enough to walk through.
All the windows in the northwest corner of the Sanford Housing Authority's Lake Monroe Terrace had to be replaced because vandals long ago smashed them too. There's a security guard on the grounds now, but somebody has already stolen one of the new windows, including the frame, from a first-floor unit.
Of course, the windows wouldn't have been stolen or broken, nor the walls damaged, if not for the stubbornness of the housing authority's former executive director, Timothy D. Hudson, a 41-year-old pastor with a history of bending the rules to benefit himself. Despite a denial from federal authorities, Hudson moved nearly all the residents of Lake Monroe Terrace out of their apartments, which he wanted to demolish, and illegally placed them on temporary subsistence vouchers. Lake Monroe Terrace sat vacant for years without security -- an open invitation for vandals.
It was one of many moves Hudson made outside the bounds of law or policy. By the time he resigned in April 2000, Hudson had established a legacy of bounced checks, expensive legal cases, oppressive policies, secret meetings with the housing board and conflict of interest charges (see "A wayward shepherd," Jan. 11, 2001). Soon after he was forced to resign, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which allocates more than $1 million annually to the SHA to manage six apartment complexes, issued a 124-page report detailing policy violations committed by Hudson's administration, including the charge that it had misspent more than $706,000. The agency was officially declared "troubled," meaning it required federal oversight. The same month, the FBI raided SHA offices, and the authority's five-member board resigned.
Today, the SHA's properties look much like they did under Hudson's tenure. Five of them house about the same number of tenants as they did when Hudson was in charge. But in Lake Monroe Terrace, the newest and most run-down complex, many of the 100 units are still boarded up and only a small fraction are inhabited. The SHA, with approval from HUD's Troubled Agency Center, is remodeling Lake Monroe Terrace in sections. The first rehab job, which could cost more than $100,000, is the northwest corner, where 16 apartments have been reroofed and rewired. Workers are scheduled to fix the holes in the walls and repave the parking lot. It should be ready for residents by February.
As the SHA spends 2003 rehabbing itself, Hudson will spend most of the year trying to clear his battered reputation. Seminole County filed a lawsuit earlier this year, alleging Hudson's company, TDH & Associates, violated contracts on three grants unrelated to the housing authority.
With $276,000 from two of the grants allocated through Seminole County's community redevelopment office, Hudson's company bought property in a low-income community on the west side of Sanford and built two apartment complexes. To facilitate the deal on one of the sites, Hudson moved 90-year-old Tilda Peterson from her home on 10th Street into a housing-authority apartment, skipping over hundreds of people on a waiting list.
That ethical breach, however, is not why Hudson is being sued. The county took legal action because he sold the apartment complexes two years ago when he was bound by contract to hold them as affordable housing until the year 2012.
Hudson also promised the county his company would build eight affordable homes that he would sell to low-income residents. Hudson did indeed use $65,000 in grant money to buy eight parcels in the Midway neighborhood, an unincorporated, low-income black community southeast of Sanford. Hudson's mother, Claretha Hudson, who also lives in Midway, even sold a lot to her son's company, of which she was an officer.
Instead of building eight houses, though, Hudson constructed only two. And he violated state health codes in doing so. Without a building permit or variance, he enclosed the garages in each house to make the homes three bedrooms. But the Florida Department of Health issued permits for septic tanks based on a two-bedroom layout. According to John Cochrane, a state environmental manager who works in Seminole County, the state is still negotiating how to reconcile the septic tank problem.
Hudson's indiscretions with the two Midway properties don't end there. Despite a contract requiring him to own each home for 15 years, he sold them in September 2000 to an unqualified buyer who rents them to low-income tenants, thus violating the spirit of the grant, which was to promote low-income home ownership.
The other six lots Hudson gave to the county because, at 4,000 square feet each, they were too small to build on. (County code requires a minimum of 8,400 square feet.) The county, in turn, gave them to the Center for Affordable Housing, a nonprofit, affordable-housing management agency. The agency in turn sold the lots to Habitat for Humanity and a Midway homeowner. The homeowner will use two of the lots as an extra yard; Habitat for Humanity has asked the county for a variance to build a single house on three of the lots. The sixth lot, which Claretha Hudson sold to TDH & Associates, is still sitting vacant.
The county's case against Hudson has been held up by his request to legally represent his own company, even though he's not a lawyer. Assistant county attorney Karen Consalo says that would open the door for Hudson to appeal later. "He can argue to an appeals court that we took advantage of him," Consalo explains. A hearing to determine whether Hudson can represent TDH & Associates is scheduled for March.
Though Hudson has disappeared from Sanford's affordable-housing scene, his tactics linger on. The SHA is now under the stewardship of Audris Billberry, formerly of the East St. Louis Housing Authority. Despite the new management, the SHA continues to make the same legal blunders Hudson did.
Hudson was known for dragging out litigation using expensive legal firms such as Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, where District Eight representative Ric Keller practiced before being elected to Congress. Hudson once spent $5,000 to keep the authority from building a $500 gate that would have given the now-deceased Roshell Smith access to the street in front of her home.
Under Billberry, the housing authority spent $7,144 in October alone defending a lawsuit filed by Robert Walker, who Hudson contracted with in October 1999 to be the SHA's construction consultant. When Richard Moore took over from Hudson as interim director in June 2000, he dismissed Walker. But Walker had a binding contract worth more than $136,000, which was approved by the SHA board. No matter how bad the contract was for the housing agency, it is still valid in legal terms.
Yet the housing authority's new board continues to fight the suit even though it is surely a loser. "Their attorneys came to court-ordered mediation, but they were there in bad faith," says Robert Walker's attorney, Howard Marks. "They were not interested in paying any kind of settlement other than a nominal amount, which was ridiculous."
As Timothy Hudson has demonstrated, however, being ridiculous hasn't stopped the SHA from spending money in the past.