The controversy surrounding former Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson and the unscrupulous dealings with the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) prompted current County Executive Rushern Baker to call for an audit of the that department.
The county outsourced the audit to Virginia Tech, who in turn, asked the Prince George’s Real Estate Professionals for Change (PGREP4C) for recommendations on what should be implemented in the future.
PGREP4C’s report is thorough and is a scathing indictment on the state of the DHCD.
“It is our strong desire to change the direction of underperformance and lack of transparency into a direction of transparency and superior achievement,” PGREP4C President Ruth Wright and vice president Carl Allen said in a letter to the Prince George’s County Council.
“The Department of Housing has been plagued by mismanagement, misguidance, lack of direction and unskilled leadership for decades,” they continued. “The audit in combination with our recommendations surely provides a roadmap to correcting the problem.”
PGREP4C’s recommendations call for more community involvement before decisions are made. Wright says the latest black eye, the appointment of Eric Brown as acting director of DHCD, despite being fired from similar positions in the past, could’ve been avoided had the community been involved in the process.
She said an independent board of citizens would have delved into Brown’s past and vetted him in the proper manner before it spawned a media frenzy.
The recommendations also call for increased transparency in how federal funds are distributed. This would be an initiative mimicking how other jurisdictions run their departments.
They would make accessible by Internet: descriptions of specific programs and qualifications, applications, the program deadlines, application tracking and full disclosure of bid winners.
Perhaps the most interesting recommendation would be to create a “housing czar” position, which would allow that person to devote all of their time to housing issues and nothing else.
“This is truly the ‘economic engine’ that has very little gas and is running off of fumes.
The key to turning this around is a housing czar,” Wright said in an e-mail. “The czar needs to be able to contribute significantly to helping to develop a long-term real estate strategy for the county.”
Wright and Allen warn that this audit is only a start toward fixing the problem and not the ultimate solution. They admitted that there is still a long way to go before the DHCD can be the economic engine they believe it can become.
“As we all know, the audit will not provide the prescription or cure for the problem. The audit at best will just describe the symptoms of having a failed housing system,” they said in the letter. “It will probably recommend the need for further detailed audits. We will then find ourselves spending a lot of time and money to create a library of audit reports. The alternative is to get competent people in place that can perform the tasks now.”
Other recommendations included expanding the development process to include the DHCD and Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation in addition to the planning board and an increased emphasis on transit oriented development and mixed-use development.