WASHINGTON — Federal officials with the Department of U.S. Housing and Urban Development say there were gaps in the city’s response to an investigation into possible grants violations at an Oahu senior center.

A HUD spokeswoman told Civil Beat that the agency “verbally presented its concerns” about the report to city officials last week.

In routine monitoring last spring, HUD uncovered a slew of compliance issues with a nonprofit elderly care center in Wahiawa. The federal agency told the city that it would have to take immediate corrective action to avoid returning $7.9 million in Community Development Block Grant money.

Part of the required response from the city was a report, which Honolulu officials filed earlier this month, outlining how it would work to bring ORI Anuenue Hale back into federal compliance. The violations HUD found in its investigation demonstrated a lack of required city oversight, the federal agency said.

HUD spokeswoman Gene Gibson described issues with the city response, and says HUD will formally detail its concerns in a letter to the city by the end of the week.

“The city stated its goals, as well as the goals of ORI,” Gibson wrote in an email to Civil Beat. “However, HUD informed the city that it would be necessary for the city and ORI to refine their goals into specific tasks. It would be important to pin down the tasks with individual steps so that progress and successful completion could be tracked and measured.”

In an earlier interview with Civil Beat, the director of the city department that oversees CDBG grants called the meeting with HUD “very productive,” but didn’t specify what was discussed.

HUD said another concern about the city’s report went to the root of the federal agency’s initial finding that ORI is underutilized by the population it was designed to serve. Gibson said the city needs to be more specific in addressing this issue.
 
“The issue of the target number of clients being serviced by ORI needs to be clarified,” Gibson wrote. “HUD informed the city that it was important for them to define client usage. The City must ensure that the ORI program meets national requirements and goals of full utilization.”

In a City Council hearing, ORI executives testified that the federal government never specified a required usage standard. ORI executives also testified that they never set forth a goal for the number of clients served. But a previous Civil Beat investigation into a decade of ORI documents showed that, in its grant applications, ORI made estimates about the number of people who would use the facilities built with CDBG money.

In documents that Civil Beat obtained in an open records request, ORI wrote that it would serve “100 unduplicated” individuals, though a timeframe is not specified. When a HUD investigator visited the site last spring, that person reported seeing five individuals. ORI has complained that HUD’s investigation was unfair, and that is findings do not reflect the larger number of people who use the facility.

Civil Beat counted four seniors participating in a program at the mostly-empty facility during a site visit in June.

“HUD maintains that the program site is underutilized and is currently not fully satisfying the CDBG program national requirements,” Gibson wrote.

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