New London Housing Authority off HUD's 'troubled' list

New London - After 13 years, the New London Housing Authority is no longer designated "troubled" by HUD but is still considered "substandard'' in financial indicators.

The authority is striving for an all-around top rating of "high performance,'' according to Executive Director Sue Shontell.

"I'm thrilled,'' she said Tuesday of the new rating. "It was a long time coming."

David Collins, chairman of the board of commissioners, attributed the authority's successes to better management, accounting practices and training for staff.

"Now as time passes, the old problems are getting further away and are getting resolved,'' he said. "We can only keep going up. I'd love to be high performer, but the next step is standard performer."

He said the higher designation means the authority, which oversees 433 federal and state housing units, will have fewer reporting requirements to HUD.

"They're putting us on a longer leash,'' he said.

On the latest Public Housing Assessment System report, done annually by HUD, the New London authority scored 76 out of a maximum score of 100. A rating below 60 means an agency is troubled.

Last year at this time, the authority thought it had scored high enough to get it off the "troubled" list, but due to changes in HUD's reporting, the agency remained on the list.

Under the PHAS indicators on the June 1 report, New London scored 34 out of 40 in a physical review; 21 out of 25 in management; and 10 out of 10 in its capital fund accounting.

A low score of 11 out of 25 in the financial category contributed to the "substandard financial'' designation.

Shontell said the low score on the financials is attributed to $158,000 the authority still owes in long overdue water and sewer bills. She expects that debt to be paid off by the end of the year.

Thirteen years ago, HUD considered taking away the authority's 225 federally funded housing units at Thames River Apartments, the high-rise buildings on Crystal Avenue, and the state senior apartments at 202 Colman St., after evaluations revealed the authority was not taking care of its properties - many were left vacant, and its finances were in disarray.

By 2006, the authority had begun to make progress. Vacancies were filled, but the agency continued to struggle financially, owing about $4 million in unpaid water and sewer bills and other utility costs.

In early 2011, the city and the housing authority reached an agreement on a repayment schedule for its debts.

The agency is also still defending itself from a class-action lawsuit, filed about five years ago on behalf of residents at Thames River, who alleged inhumane living conditions in the high-rise apartment complex.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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