County fires housing director

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San Miguel County has fired its housing director, Gilbert Almanza, just weeks after an unfavorable audit.

Almanza’s last day as director is today.

County Manager Les Montoya confirmed the county terminated Almanza from the position. But he said the county’s finance department was hiring Almanza as an information technology employee to help install a new computer system.

Montoya said Almanza has a background in computers. Almanza will be considered a new employee, meaning he will be on a year’s probation, a period in which it’s easier to fire someone.

Almanza will start in the new position as early as Monday, Montoya said. Almanza will be making around $29,000 in the new job, down from $37,000 before, the manager said.

The new housing director will be Christina Barrajas, who is now the assistant in the county’s Office of Emergency Management. She has experience in the Section 8 housing program, which distributes federal housing subsidies for low-income people.

Almanza declined to be interviewed Wednesday.

In October, the federal government placed San Miguel County’s housing program in troubled status.

Such a sanction means the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development may transfer the county’s Section 8 housing voucher program to another agency.

The troubled-status designation comes after a federal review in July of the Section 8 program, which determined that Almanza failed to provide proper documentation in many instances.

According to the July review, HUD found deficiencies in most areas of the local program. The agency determined there were problems in the determination of eligibility and income of tenants.

The evaluation was for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2009.

The report found that the local program didn’t verify utility rates during the fiscal year, and as such, tenants may not have received the proper amount of subsidies and may have been overburdened with utility costs.

The local program also failed in completing the re-examination of income for 27 percent of the families served in the fiscal year in question, the evaluation states.

The program additionally failed to approve housing for occupancy for at least 98 percent of new units, the inspectors said. That means tenants could have been living in unsafe units, HUD said.

The county didn’t challenge any of the findings.

The city’s housing authority was placed in troubled status five years ago, where it has remained ever since.