Point Twp. awaits word on grant payback reversal
POINT TOWNSHIP - A township official said supervisors are still in the dark about concerns of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in relation to a botched grant program for low- to moderate-income housing development.
Although the state Department of Community Economic Development (DCED) cleared the township in August 2012 of any requirement to pay back $381,258 in grant money from the federal HOME program, township officials issued a press release last month saying they were led to believe HUD was not satisfied with DCED's resolution.
"At this time, the township has not yet determined the nature of HUD's concerns, or how that concern will eventually be resolved," the supervisors said in the release.
Contacted Tuesday, township Chairman Randy Yoxheimer said there is no new information to share and reserved further comment.
Since special legal counsel has been hired to make a recommendation, supervisors have been directed not to comment.
In June, DCED said the township's decision to allow the developer to build and sell fewer qualifying units than originally proposed would be addressed, and that the investigation was continuing.
Niki Edwards, regional public affairs officer for HUD in Philadelphia, said this week, "HUD is continuing to discuss its review of Point Township's HOME grant with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development."
She had no further comment.
DCED originally ordered the township to pay back the money because municipal officials failed to adequately track how The Yoder Group, Turbotville, which was hired to construct the homes, spent the grant issued about eight years ago.
The problem was chalked up by most accounts to a lack of paperwork by the builder, township supervisors said.
"Naturally, the township extended its full cooperation to DCED, including the production of all available documents," the supervisors said in the release. "After an examination of construction expenses associated with the project, the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development concluded its review and advised the township in writing that the township will not be responsible to DCED for any repayment."
Yoder will at some point, at DCED's instruction, have to build more homes, the number not yet being clear, and offer them to low- to moderate-income buyers, which was supposed to happen with the original grant. Yoder won't get any more grant money toward that new construction.
Once the new arrangement plays out and Yoder builds and sells the additional homes to qualified buyers, township officials believe DCED will be satisfied.
The supervisors said in the release they anticipate providing further updates regarding the matter when the information becomes available.
Mark Heintzelman, a former township zoning hearing board member who has battled with township officials over the Yoder grant issue, remains in contact with DCED and HUD as he presses for further investigation of the handling of the grant. In a letter he wrote to HUD officials in August, he was critical of the agency's recent standing on another case in which it determined the statute of limitations had run out.
"It appears that the OIG (office of inspector general) of HUD would rather turn a blind eye to the obvious misuse of taxpayer money ... rather than prosecute the guilty parties and replenish the federal coffers on behalf of the taxpayer," he said.
On the Point Township grant in particular, Heintzelman asked in the same letter for guidance "to trigger a joint Senate hearing on this clear-cut misuse of taxpayer money."
He said he's been told by HUD that they'll inform him of their latest decision on Point Township on or about Sept. 20.
The Point Township issue became entangled in Northumberland County politics when Commissioners Stephen Bridy and Vinny Clausi forced the ouster of township supervisor Montie Peters from the county planning board, citing a "major leadership failure" related to the township grant. Point Township officials later reflected the criticism when the county's handling of a DCED grant came into question.
A report on DCED and HUD's investigation into the county grant is expected soon, too.