The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is reviewing complaints about a Hickory public housing agency, where employees have been accused of sexually harassing tenants and misspending taxpayer money on personal gifts.
Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright said Tuesday that authorities were investigating allegations contained in a 10-page complaint letter from three former Hickory Public Housing Authority administrators.
They wrote that agency leaders failed to respond when multiple female tenants reported that a male manager offered to pay their rent in exchange for sexual favors.
Their letter also says that Housing Authority Executive Director Alanda Richardson used public money to provide administrators and other officials with iPads, cosmetics and other perks. Richardson has acknowledged making the purchases with agency funds, but said the expenses were justified.
On Tuesday, federal officials visited the housing agency office and planned to return Wednesday as part an operations review. A HUD spokesman would not provide specifics except to say authorities were looking into management, personnel and finance issues.
The inquiry follows an Observer report last month that revealed details from the complaint letter and other accusations of unethical and unprofessional conduct.
“It is long overdue,” said Glenn Pinckney, one of the three former employees who signed the complaint letter sent to Washington in June. “It is amazing HUD has allowed these blatant atrocities for as long as they have. If it is a honest and thorough investigation, there will have to be change.”
Craig Hensel, a Greensboro attorney who plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of female tenants, said Tuesday that at least seven women have accused a manager and other staffers of sexual harassment. Hensel said he anticipates that others will come forward.
“I am happy somebody is looking into this,” Hensel said. “This is an organization where there needs to be a closer look.”
Richardson did not return a phone call seeking comment. She has previously defended herself against the allegations, saying she would not tolerate sexual harassment and bought gifts for employees with public money to boost workplace morale.
Hickory has only about 300 public housing units, 15 employees and a $5 million annual budget. But in recent years the agency has paid to send administrators and others on training trips nationwide, including to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.; Hilton Head Island, S.C.; Orlando, Fla.; and Las Vegas.
Richardson has said the training was needed after HUD investigators in 2012 cited the organization for mismanaging more than $500,000 and ordered the money repaid.
Mayor Wright said he plans to appoint two new members to help the Board of Commissioners, which oversees the agency.