Hickory City Council is moving to disband the city’s public housing agency following allegations that officials sexually harassed tenants, misspent taxpayer money and failed to properly monitor finances, according to newly released documents.
The disclosure is contained in letters that Hickory Public Housing Authority Chairman Sidney Myles sent to City Council members and the federal government.
A Dec. 31 letter says that city officials informed the Housing Authority about the pending move during a recent private meeting. The city has told housing administrators that it “doesn’t want to have any responsibility or connections to low-income housing,” Myles wrote.
City Council members will meet Tuesday to discuss plans for the Housing Authority. Under city rules, the panel has the power to abolish the housing agency and form a new organization. Mayor Rudy Wright also can appoint new members to the agency’s board of commissioners.
On Monday, Wright said Myles’ letters were misleading and contained misstatements.
The proposals come after Observer reports detailing allegations that Housing Authority Executive Director Alanda Richardson misused public money to buy administrators and other officials iPads, pocketbooks, new office furniture, cell phones and other gifts.
Richardson has denied any wrongdoing.
Myles did not return a phone call Monday seeking comment. In his letters, Myles defended the agency and wrote that it was considered a high performer by federal officials.
But an October review from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which helps oversee public housing agencies nationwide, found financial files in “disarray,” unexplained bank accounts and no evidence that the board charged with overseeing the agency could monitor its finances.
Multiple female tenants also have accused a former administrator of paying their rent in exchange for sexual favors.
Located about 60 miles northwest of Charlotte, Hickory’s housing authority uses a $5 million annual budget and 15 employees to provide affordable housing to the poor.
Under a proposed plan, according to Myles’ letter, operations would be turned over to the Western Piedmont Council of Governments, which provides planning and technical assistance to government agencies in Catawba, Alexander, Burke and Caldwell counties. Richardson would no longer serve as executive director.
Myles harshly criticized the plan, suggesting that race has played a role in the city’s decision-making.
Some city officials and a vocal faction of white business leaders have demanded the Housing Authority scrap plans to build units along a commercial corridor near downtown, according to Myles’ letter.
“We know this is not a good faith effort intended to improve the quality of life for the people we serve, but an attempt to socially and politically contain them in communities where crime and poverty abound,” Myles wrote.
Wright denied that race has been a factor in the issue.
“That is wrong and it is unfair,” Wright said. “These allegations of institutional racism, to be honest with you, I don’t know how you overcome that.”