After 27 years with the Mobile Housing Authority Board and almost one year away from full retirement benefits, Samuel McCord will be searching for a new job.
“I feel like I’m being forced to retire,” McCord, 60, said.
He said he started at the housing authority as a garbage collector, but worked his way up to a building maintenance supervisor who, during his time in that position, oversaw a maintenance crew, oversaw maintenance crews at Roger Williams and Gulf Village.
“I had cancer four years ago,” McCord said. “I’m cancer free now, but I still have to visit the doctor regularly. I don’t know who’s going to hire me.”
In all, the housing authority laid off six of seven building maintenance supervisors, McCord said.
In a letter to the employees, Executive Director Dwayne Vaughn blamed a lack of federal funding and budgetary constraints for the layoffs.
“Effective immediately, you are permanently relieved of your duties,” Vaughn wrote. “You will remain on payroll until September 19, 2014, but you are relieved of any duties related to your employment and you are not to conduct any business in the name of the Mobile Housing Board.”
Laid off employees will receive their last paychecks on Friday, Oct. 3, according to the letter.
Ty Criswell was another maintenance supervisor who lost his job, as part of the layoffs. He and McCord blame money mismanagement, for the cuts. In addition, Criswell said the 16 housing board employees were let go because they weren’t “yes men.”
In a phone interview, Vaughn said he had hoped that attrition from retirees earlier in the year would be enough to allow the housing authority to maintain its level of employment, but it wasn’t.
“It was a sad day for our agency and for our employees,” Vaughn said. “We regret the amount of management experience we’re losing.”
Department of Housing and Urban Development spokeswoman Gloria Shanahan said the department has had its spending cut in recent years, but didn’t go into specifics. She said members of HUD’s Real Estate Assessment Center’s Quality Assurance division came down to Mobile last week to do an “assessment of the financial condition” of the housing board.
Shanahan said she doesn’t know the specific reason for the HUD visit, but said REAC does inspections routinely.
The housing board relies heavily on federal funding, Vaughn said. About 90 percent of the MHB budget is federal money, he said.
In addition to poor money management, McCord said the moves were made to protect employees of a non-profit, third-party contractor called Mobile Development Enterprises. Vaughn called that misinformation, stating that four of the 16 layoffs were MDE employees.
According to the housing authority executive compensation numbers released in March of this year, Vaughn made $177,222 in salary in fiscal year 2013. Vaughn was brought in to run MHB and MDE in 2010, at a salary of $157,298.
To compare, the executive director of the Phoenix Housing Authority made $135,022 during the same time. The PHA oversees nearly 9,000 housing units, while MHB oversees 7,676 housing units.
The Mississippi Regional Housing Authority No. 7 pays its executive director $126,604 to manage the entity’s 7,818 units.
Vaughn said the layoffs would allow the housing authority to go to a sector-based maintenance system, rather than have one maintenance crew and one supervisor at each of the developments.
“There will be two sectors,” Vaughn said. “It will reduce some of the cost. Overall the new sector-based system will be more efficient.”
Criswell, who was picking up workman’s compensation for an injury, said he’s out of a job and doesn’t see an opportunity opening up for him any time soon.
“I’m without a job and have no source of income,” he said. “Who’s going to hire a 52-year-old with the problems I’ve had?”
The Mobile Housing Board operates seven multi-family housing developments and five senior developments.
The multi-family developments include: Oaklawn Homes, Orange Grove Homes, Roger Williams Homes, Thomas James Place, Gulf Village, Renaissance Properties and R.V. Taylor Plaza.