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Reason to rejoice



It's been a long road for a group of tenants living in the Sanford projects who have worked for two years to remove their executive director, Timothy D. Hudson.

They marched in front of City Hall, they picketed the mayor's house, and they wrote volumes of paperwork to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Nothing seemed to work, as local and federal bureaucracies passed back and forth the Sanford Housing Authority's many problems. "We tried to tell them things weren't right, but nobody would listen to us," says Mary Noble, who led the group named STORM (Sanford Tenants for the Reform of Management).

Finally the media -- led by a Jan. 11 Orlando Weekly cover story, and followed up by ongoing reporting by television stations and the Sentinel -- and the anti-Hudson sentiment blossomed. HUD finally investigated the agency. And the media continued finding sordid business details that Hudson and the housing authority's five-member board couldn't answer for.

This week, tenants are expecting the Sanford City Council to remove Hudson -- a Sanford pastor who already offered his resignation but hoped to stay on until April 20 -- as well as the housing authority's oversight board.

Their desire to remove them all is based on information contained in a preliminary HUD report, which the housing authority must respond to this week.

The report found that Hudson's agency:

* Failed to account for nearly $1 million supposedly tied up in investment accounts.

* Paid nearly $100,000 in unauthorized employee bonuses and payments, including $55,000 to Hudson himself.

* Caused its general fund account to be overdrawn by $112,000 in 2000 because of improper withdrawals.

* Made questionable purchases, including spending more than $30,000 for non-Authority apartments and another $530 for Christmas gifts.

* Spent an undisclosed sum on two properties on West Seventh Street unrelated to Housing Authority business.

* Didn't follow policy when awarding contracts.

* Didn't check tenant backgrounds or collect security deposits.

* Didn't provide hearings for families facing eviction.

* Overspent its 2000 budget on legal, travel and administrative salaries.

What's worse, the damage Hudson did to the housing authority might never be realized because of the haphazard way Hudson, the housing authority's former financial director, kept the books.

"The condition of the files is so poor that acquiring a clear picture of what funds are being received and expended by each program is nearly impossible to do," the report says. "There are no controls in place and in many instances the financial person will issue a request for payment and also process it. Backup documentation is incomplete and in some cases non-existent."

To tenants, however, the 12-page report already validates their concerns and complaints since Hudson took control of the agency in 1995 following a scandal.

"Whatever you do, you have to take care of your tenants," says Amanda Geter, a resident of Castle Brewer Court, one of six complexes under the Sanford Housing Authority umbrella. "Whatever else you do is your business. Tenants should have been living better. I'm sorry to see it come down to this, but my heart goes to the tenants."

The next step is for tenants is lobby for a director and board who will listen to them and not rely on oppressive policies disguised as a progressive agenda.

"We need somebody to come in here thinking in terms of people," Geter says. "We need people who will do their jobs and get things in order. It's not hard to do. But you must have someone who has a willing mind."

Tenants hope the first order of business will be to clean up Lake Monroe Terrace, a 100-unit complex that now has just 10 families living in it. One of Hudson's controversial programs was to relocate Lake Monroe tenants while he laid plans to tear down their apartments, even though HUD expressly prohibited their destruction.

Today the complex is a ghost town, with boarded-up windows, weeded lawns and glass-strewn parking lots.

"Where I'm living at now, I'm actually scared at night," Noble says. "There's no one down here."


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