TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Last April, the New York State Comptroller’s Office launched an audit of the Tonawanda Housing Authority.
It had been more than a decade since the agency’s last audit. And the state’s findings showed it was not only long overdue, but the information uncovered was also very telling.
Things have changed at the Tonawanda Housing Authority, after what’s been described as years of shoddy, secretive, even salacious behavior by the previous administration.
“The auditors discovered that under the previous administration, their frankly was a disregard, somebody even say contempt, for the neediest housing applicants and some situations where it looked like some individuals were getting preferential treatment,” said Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
DiNapoli said his auditors found years of problems in the housing authority, which led to unfair denials, high vacancy rates and a significant loss of revenue.
“It really was a picture of too many years where the authority did not operate with a fair and equitable or transparent manner,” DiNapoli said.
DiNapoli said prospective tenants weren’t singled out because of their race, gender or religion. Rather, it was more pointed.
“Our auditors found former staff members making hostile and sometimes vulgar notes on the applications of potential tenants,” said DiNapoli, who added that housing authority staff also made similar statements to his auditors who were working on site.
But DiNapoli said neither the statements nor the actions rose to the legal level of discrimination.
“Based on what we found in the audit, there is not a case of discrimination in terms of race, religion, in that regard,” DiNapoli said. “It was more personal comments so it didn’t rise to that other level of concern that might have prompted some further action.”
Auditors also searched the agency’s computers, and found employees spent time on personal tasks, including online shopping, surfing social media and even looking at pornography. Some of the computers were infected with malware; one was infected by ransomware, and was left unusable. Some of the infected computers contained personal information of tenants, including social security numbers and sources of income. It wasn’t clear Thursday whether the tenants — past or present — were informed.
But DiNapoli said he’s not aware of any breach of information from the computers.
“We really just found poor practices here they did not serve the authority or the tenants well, did not serve the board well,” he said.
Just as the audit was getting underway, the agency underwent a massive staff change, including former administrators.
The agency’s new executive secretary, Dale Kokanovich, said he’s been charged with correcting an organization once wrought with problems. He said the prior administration wasn’t just overly selective with whom they allowed to live there. They were disorganized and chose favorites.
“There were a total of probably 250 people, 250 or greater, on a wait list,” Kokanovich said. “And today were at about 100.”
Kokanovich said some of the apartments were left vacant by the prior administration for years; more than one unit was left vacant for more than eight years.
Kokanovich said vacancy rates recently reached the 6 percent mark, and he expects them to drop further. He also has implemented new computer software to enhance security. And, with the exception of a part time clerk, the entire staff at Tonawanda Housing Authority is new.