Federal investigation absolves Peninsula Housing Authority after complaint

PORT ANGELES — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has determined that the Peninsula Housing Authority’s tool rental fees are “not unreasonable” and absolved the agency of implied double-dipping of taxpayer funds.

One family participating in the Mutual Self-Help Housing Program complained about the rental fees during a final inspection of the Pendley Court Estates in west Port Angeles last May, a USDA Rural Development spokesman said.

That complaint, which was the focus of a March 2 KING 5 consumer investigation, raised questions about the fees and whether the housing authority was charging for tools it purchased through grants.

“We just wanted to make sure there was no double-dipping going on, and internally we determined that that was not the case,” said Philip Eggman, USDA state public information officer.

“Then we have asked them, for the sake of clarity, that they’re more transparent for tool fees up front.”

Because Peninsula Housing Authority does not use grant funds to purchase any tools, the agency is allowed to charge a monthly tool fee to cover its costs, Eggman said.

The Peninsula Housing Authority has built 84 new homes for low income families in Clallam and Jefferson counties since it became a mutual self-help grantee in 2004.

It received a $518,896 grant from the USDA in November 2015, Eggman said.

Instead of a down payment, families who qualify for the Mutual Self-Help Housing Program commit to working 32 hours per week on their home and other homes in their soon-to-be neighborhoods.

Mutual Self-Help is the only federal program to combine opportunities for sweat equity home ownership, technical assistance and affordable home loans for rural Americans, Eggman said.

“It’s a great program,” said Peninsula Housing Authority Executive Director Kay Kassinger, who added: “We live by rules and regulations.”

After hearing the complaint about missing or damaged tools and exorbitant and misleading fees, USDA Rural Development officials sought guidance from the Rural Community Assistance Corporation.

“We wanted to make sure that the money wasn’t being misused and they weren’t using the grant to charge for what they were already getting,” Eggman said in a telephone interview.

“They were not doing that.”

The Rural Community Assistance Corporation, which provides training and technical assistance for self-help grantees, determined that the tool fee was “not unreasonable and was consistent with market value,” Eggman said in a Thursday email.

Peninsula Housing Authority charges families $150 per month to rent tools. It would cost about three times that much to rent the same tools commercially, Kassinger said.

“It’s a really good deal what we do,” she said.

Kassinger said the fees were “very clearly listed” in group labor agreements.

She added that the agency would be more specific about monthly fees in the future.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.