JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Housing Authority (JHA) is being investigated by the city, three sources confirmed to News4JAX on Thursday.
Sources said the investigation involves oversight of funds for various programs and a report is expected to be released soon. Inspector General for the City of Jacksonville Matthew Lascell confirmed the report but said he could not comment.
President and CEO Dwayne Alexander oversees the city public housing agency that is tasked with providing “decent, safe, and sanitary affordable housing,” to those in need, which includes seniors, those with disabilities and people with low-to-moderate income.
On Thursday, Alexander was in a workshop with board members where they were being updated about how they operate and secure funding for the many housing projects they are now involved with.
News of the ongoing city investigation appeared to be a surprise to Alexander.
“I know they was looking into, in terms of one specific program, but not the whole entire agency,” he said. “So you know, anytime they have an inquiry, we normally respond to them. I mean, it’s been going on for the last five years, they send inquiries quite often.”
The Florida Times-Union on Wednesday reported that Mayor Donna Deegan’s office recently put a hold on giving a pay raise to Alexander while her administration takes a closer look at how JHA is working to address the affordable housing crisis in the city.
Alexander told News4JAX he doesn’t understand the reason behind the pay pause but he’s “fine with it.”
Alexander’s salary increased earlier this year to $250,000, but talks of bumping his pay up to around $310,000 ended last month when two people from the mayor’s office told the JHA board that a pay raise would send the wrong message to the community, the Times-Union reported.
“We look forward to working with the Jacksonville Housing Authority to address the city’s affordable housing crisis by building and supporting much needed low-income housing. Mr. Alexander did receive a raise earlier this year, and conversations about increased compensation can be reassessed at a future date,” the city said in a statement to News4JAX on Thursday.
“He works tirelessly day after day, and it would be a real shame for this agency, the board and the city if we lose him because we don’t want to pay him what all the other CEOs at similar agencies are making,” Board Chairman Christopher Walker told members of the mayor’s staff during the Nov. 9 meeting.
An emergency meeting with the housing authority board has been called for Monday but it’s not yet clear what members will discuss.
Alexander took over as head of the agency in 2018 after the previous CEO Fred McKinnies was placed on paid administrative leave pending a city investigation into numerous complaints against him from staff. An investigation later found McKinnies had sex with staffers and a tenant.
Addressing the affordable housing crisis has been a priority of the Deegan administration in her first year in office.
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Jacksonville Affordable Housing and Community Development Director Joshua Hicks told News4JAX last week that Florida has too much demand for housing and simply not enough supply.
“We have 98,000 people on a waiting list for low-income or Section 8 housing in our community who do not have access to it because it’s currently full in terms of affordable housing, or 35,000 units short of where we should be in Jacksonville,” Hicks said.
Deegan reemphasized that last week and said the issue is being addressed in the city budget.
“The largest portion of our $25 million that is going through council right now addresses affordable housing and homelessness issues. And that’s because we are at crisis levels,” Deegan said.
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Hicks said ultimately what’s going to solve the crisis is building more inventory.
Hicks said a city of Jacksonville committee is taking action on a wide-ranging list of ideas to help struggling families in the short and long term, including:
Streamlining the permitting process for builders
Creating a housing oversight committee
Providing incentives to developers and community housing partners
Hicks said right now there are no new Section 8 housing projects being built, but that could soon change. The city council is expected to vote on some of these initiatives next week.
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“Rental assistance and eviction prevention assistance. We’re going to RFP those dollars out to our community organizations who are helping people who need emergency rental assistance,” Hicks said.
One of the main contributors to the housing crisis is that large sections of Jacksonville, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are now dominated by rental units often owned by investors.
One recent city report found that about a third of the homes that sold in Jacksonville last year were purchased by investors.
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