HUD official 'torpedoed' Vegas

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By David Giuliani

ALBUQUERQUE — A top federal housing official has “torpedoed” Las Vegas’ housing authority over the last few years because he believes local politicians are inherently corrupt, one of his former subordinates says.

Mathew O’Grady, a federal housing revitalization specialist who resigned last week after more than two years, said his boss, Floyd Duran, unfairly placed the local housing authority on troubled status out of spite against a former housing director, Lawrence Quintana.

Duran is the program center coordinator for New Mexico’s branch of the Office of Public Housing, which is part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Duran on Monday referred questions to HUD’s public relations office, but a spokesman didn’t provide any comment as of press time today.

In 2005, HUD placed the local housing authority on troubled status, stating it did so for a number of reasons, including problems with the waiting list for housing and finances.

A year before, the city received $6 million for demolition of the public housing development along Mills Avenue — with the money coming from a federal program known as Hope VI.

O’Grady said Duran, who was born in Las Vegas, had a vendetta against the community and believed all of its officials are corrupt. He said Duran tried to take the Hope money away from Las Vegas after the authority was set to receive the funds.

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In applying for the Hope money originally, the city thought it had been seeking funds for the demolition of the development and the construction of a new one, O’Grady said. But the application was only for the demolition money, he said.

“Floyd Duran didn’t review the application before it went to (the HUD office in Chicago). He gave zero help. He was pulling against Las Vegas,” O’Grady said in an interview Saturday in Albuquerque. “He called me in and said, ‘We’re not going to help them.’ It’s more about who Duran likes and who he doesn’t like.”

O’Grady said Duran’s hope has been to remove the housing authority from the control of the Las Vegas City Council and transfer it to a regional housing agency. He said Duran wanted to make such a move because he believed every politician in Las Vegas is “as corrupt as they get.”

O’Grady said Duran would purposely not give direction to either of the last two local housing directors, Quintana and Chris Barela. Quintana resigned in mid-2005, and Barela, who replaced him, was let go along with four other city directors during the summer.

O’Grady had good words about the former directors. In fact, he said Barela did a “fair to good job.”

On Monday, Quintana said he agreed with O’Grady that Duran tried to make things tough for Las Vegas. He said that after Las Vegas got the HUD money in 2004, Duran tried to take it away.

“He and I had a disagreement about whether to tear down the housing at Encino (along Mills Avenue). I said that it would cost a lot more to put in new infrastructure than to tear it down and put new housing in,” Quintana said.

He said HUD originally rejected the city’s application for Hope funds, but not long before the 2004 presidential election, the city was informed it would be given the money anyway. He said it wasn’t until after the election that Duran started his effort to keep Las Vegas from getting the money. Quintana noted that New Mexico is a battleground state in presidential elections, which he believed may have been a factor in HUD’s decision to give Las Vegas the money.

Quintana said that when he brought up that possibility, Duran got angry and not long after, Duran sent investigators to examine the local authority, which resulted in the troubled-status designation.

“Floyd was very resistant to the application process money anyway. He wanted the money to go back to HUD,” he said.

Quintana also said Duran may also have been against the demolition because that would have meant less public housing in his jurisdiction, which could have adversely affected staffing levels in the New Mexico office.

Barela, the former director, is not listed in the local phonebook.

Lorenzo Flores, a local activist who has focused on housing issues, defended Duran.

“We were the ones who brought all of the allegations against housing to Floyd. We went out of our way to torpedo it. We gave him all of the information,” he said.

At the time, Flores and others complained publicly about the plan to demolish the housing, saying that the homes were in good enough condition. Also, he and his group successfully convinced HUD to require the authority to give more compensation to residents forced to relocate because of the demolition.

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O’Grady said he left his job because he couldn’t stand Duran’s hypocrisy.

“My job was to make sure housing authorities spend their money correctly. We’re not there to make you sink,” he said.

He said he even told Duran that he could fix the local authority in a matter of months. But Duran refused, he said.

Instead, HUD hired a consultant to help at a cost of more than $100,000, O’Grady said.

Las Vegas remains on troubled status.

Duran was scheduled to speak to the City Council on Wednesday, but he said he had a late change in plans. He said he’s now looking to meet with the council on Nov. 5.