The president invites us to follow the money from the federal stimulus package.
In the case of almost $2 million for low-income housing, you’ll need a compass and a road map.
A handful of grants under the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 8 housing program will need to make an arduous trek from Washington, D.C., to Marco Island, through Miami, Miramar and back to Southwest Florida before ending up in North Florida.
The journey begins with a visit to recovery.gov, the Web site set up to help the public track $787 billion to be spent through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in February.
Zooming in on Collier County, you’ll find a dot on Marco Island. What stimulus money flows there? Four grants totaling $1.9 million to the businesses Haven Glen Springs, Haven Marion Manor, Haven Havana Heights and THE Apartments. The grants are each described as part of the HUD Section 8 housing assistance payment program.
But none of the named businesses are on Marco Island. All four grants are going to the same post office box on the island.
The businesses also have the same manager, Harris Millman, who lists a North Miami Beach address on state business records.
Millman is also the manager of Haven Economic Development Inc., also of the North Miami Beach address, according to state records.
Numbers provided by directory assistance for Haven Economic Development in Miami and Miramar have been disconnected, as have two other east coast listings available for Harris Millman.
Any Haven Economic Development Inc. activity here is under the official radar.
“They may be doing good work, but I’m not familiar with them,” Marco Island City Manager Steve Thompson said.
Essie Seratta heads up the Collier County Housing Authority, which handles all Section 8 housing vouchers flowing into the county. She said she recently became aware of the grants to Haven Economic’s properties.
“It was very surprising to us to learn another entity’s receiving stimulus money,” she said.
Even more surprising, the money sent to Marco Island is apparently destined to dilapidated apartment complexes in Gainesville, Ocala and Starke.
The HUD Section 8 program consists of two components, explained Gloria Shanahan, a HUD spokeswoman based in Miami. The first provides vouchers that allow low-income, disabled and elderly people to obtain housing. The second supplies money to housing projects that cater to those groups.
In May, the Gainesville Sun reported that Glen Springs apartments in Gainesville, Marion Manor apartments in Ocala and THE Apartments in Starke, all of them accepting section 8 vouchers, were on the verge of losing their contracts with the federal government because of the poor conditions of the units. The Havana Heights apartment complex, located in Havana, Fla., north of Tallahassee, was not mentioned.
Employees who answered the phones at the apartment complexes said Millman was not on site and referred calls to Property Counselors Management Group, a Fort Myers company listed on HUD records as the complexes’ manager. Terry Wayland, named by HUD as the contact person for Property Counselors, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Andrea Mead, a HUD spokeswoman in Washington, said HUD wouldn’t have issued the recent grants to the North Florida properties unless their contracts were still in effect. HUD will check to make sure the Section 8 money is spent properly, Mead said.
“There is a system in place to monitor each grant and each contract,” she said.
Seratta said she’s concerned HUD money sent to Collier County but intended for use elsewhere could make it more difficult for Collier’s housing authority to get future grants, but Mead said the Section 8 program doesn’t operate on a per county basis.
So following .00024 percent of the total stimulus money leads to a company that doesn’t maintain a working phone listing, owns run-down apartments and has millions of taxpayer dollars sent to a post office box hundreds of miles from the spots where they could possibly do some good. Stimulating.