The Bayou La Batre Housing Authority held a special meeting on Tuesday, May 17, voting to release its 2014 audit.
The audit shows that in 2014, the Safe Harbor subdivision was in the black $39,414.96 — the first time it hasn’t lost money since 2010.
Being faced with heavy scrutiny in the past, the BLBHA made several changes. 2014 was a year of many “firsts” for the board, including a new executive director, new rental rates and new application background checks.
The Safe Harbor housing development was built in 2009 in response to housing needs after Hurricane Katrina and consists of 100 FEMA-funded houses. In 2011 the Housing Authority sank into a debt of $27,115.21. The following year that grew to a staggering $124,426.72, even with government grants of more than $100,000 coming in during the period 2009-2011.
Executive Director Virginia Huddleston attributes the turnaround to persistence and all of the board members.
“This is just good old-fashioned hard work on everybody’s part on a day-to-day basis,” she said.
When Huddleston began her position at Safe Harbor she resorted to a “back to the basics” strategy. She began to collect overdue rent and cut expenses. In 2013 there was a reported $49,000 due in past rent, and she managed to collect $47,000 of that in just a two-week period.
Huddleston said they have been faced with huge challenges, including changing the rental rates in 2011 when the grant money ran out. The rent was changed from an income-based rate to a flat rate, which is still lower than most federally financed housing properties.
They made up the debt in other ways too, such as saving money on insurance expenses. The insurance rates dropped from $140,758.91 in 2013, to $108,451.09 in 2014. They also moved their office on site, eliminating a rental expense.
All expenses are detailed in the audit for 2014, which contrasts greatly to previous years where the records lacked specifics. Many funds were lumped together in 2009 and 2010, bringing accusations that the board was not being sufficiently transparent.
“We’re trying to break down and itemize exactly where all [the money] is going,” Huddleston said.
The lease is due to renew in November, but residents and the board seem pleased with their current situation. Signs saying “We Support the Housing Authority” line the streets in front yards, and board members expressed their appreciation for the residents at Safe Harbor.
The 2015 audits are expected to be ready mid-July, and Huddleston said they are expected to be positive as well.