Landlords paid late by Columbus housing agency as voucher management privatized

·4 min read
Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority headquarters on East 11th Avenue.
Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority headquarters on East 11th Avenue.

Some landlords whose tenants use federal vouchers have been delayed in receiving payments from the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority because of a backup in the system, as the agency transitions to a third-party vendor to manage the program.

Scott Scharlach, the Authority's chief operating officer, said the backups affect 469 tenants, though he said he is not aware of anyone who has been evicted or has not been able to find housing.

"Nobody should have not received housing or been evicted from housing because of this," Scharlach said.

CGI Federal Inc., a Canadian multinational information technology consulting company with offices in the Polaris area in Delaware County, is now managing the voucher program. Scharlach said the Housing Authority now has 13,172 federal vouchers available to help tenants pay their rent.

"It's not like flicking a light switch on and off," Scharlach said of the transition.

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Some landlords waiting two months for rent voucher payments

The Housing Authority has not been telling landlords they won't get paid for a specific amount of time, he said. But he said some payments have been delayed more than 60 days.

He said 272 contracts have been sent to landlords, which they need to sign and return electronically to get paid.

"CMHA can’t pay rental subsidies until rental contracts are executed," Scharlach said. "As soon as we get that contract from the landlord, we immediately start paying the rent."

Zack Sanders, who said he owns a duplex in Franklinton and two single-family homes in Driving Park, all for rent, said his experience with the Housing Authority was good. But Sanders said GCI needs a dedicated landlord phone line, where customer service representatives can answer questions that day, as well as faster email responses.

"We don't know the status," Sanders said. Once units pass inspection, landlords don't know how long it will take CGI to process contracts so landlords get paid, he said. "I’m worried as a landlord that I can potentially lose my houses for being late on the mortgage."

"I hope other landlords will come forth and push on the issue," he said.

Contracts are being executed daily, said Stan Harris, the Authority's board president.

"We are hoping to be caught up in September. We're working feverishly to try to get that done," Harris said. "We certainly would want to do better." "It’s not a disaster. We regret any frustration this is causing landlords and tenants. We're working to get the situation corrected."

COVID-19 backlog blamed for delays

The Housing Authority said in March it would eliminate up to 47 positions by hiring CGI, saying it would save the agency $1.2 million. At that time, 33 of the 47 workers were represented by the Maintenance & Allied Employees Union Local 711 of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry. A lawyer for the union said then that the public was best served when the work was being done by public employees.

CGI's contract began July 1. At the request of the Housing Authority, CGI took responsibility for housing inspections June 1. The contract is for three years at $7 million a year, with a two-year renewal option.

According to CGI spokesperson Mercedes Marx, the Housing Authority has experienced delays in completing inspections as well as payments to landlords beginning with the onset of COVID-19 in 2020.

"Since June, CGI quickly worked through the inspections backlog," Marx said via email. "Currently, we are helping CMHA work through a backlog of outstanding contracts."

Marx said the Housing Authority acknowledged that because some contracts were not executed within its 60-day payment standard, some landlords are awaiting payment.

"CGI is working alongside CHMA to help execute those contracts so that payment can be made," Marx said. "Once contracts are executed, CGI will be issuing payments weekly."

Marx said CGI does not anticipate similar issues in the future.

"CGI continues to work alongside CMHA to execute contracts daily and expects that backlog to be effectively addressed by early September," Marx said.

Laura Swanson, executive director of the Columbus Apartment Association, said she hasn't heard any complaints from members about the situation.

mferench@dispatch.com

@MarkFerenchik

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus housing agency late with voucher payments to landlords