With the prospect of a federal takeover looming, the board of Jefferson Parish's public housing agency said Wednesday it intends to accept the resignation of Executive Director Wayne Woods.
Woods, who has led the Housing Authority of Jefferson Parish since 2017, has overseen an agency regularly cited by federal housing officials for problems with its finances and the condition of its public-housing units.
The authority oversees a 200-unit public housing complex in Marrero and administers more than 4,000 housing vouchers in what used to be called the Section 8 program. The vouchers cover rent at privately owned apartments.
Woods became the latest casualty in ongoing battles at the authority. Knowing that some members of the board wanted him fired, he agreed to voluntarily resign after a lengthy closed-door session Wednesday with the board and Parish President Mike Yenni.
A faction of board members led by former Parish Councilman James Lawson has been angling for Woods' dismissal since last year. His fate was finally sealed after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sent a lengthy list of unaddressed issues — dating back to at least 2017 — to both the agency and Yenni in March.
HUD officials said that Woods' agency was "in default" related to its administration of the voucher program. They said they had the authority to take over the federally funded parts of the agency, but were "exercising discretion" not to do so at the time.
Monday, Yenni officially asked Woods to resign. He also urged the board to surrender some administrative functions to the parish government in an effort to prevent a HUD takeover. The shift in operations would last six months, with the option to extend it for a full year. An agreement to transfer some functions likely will be discussed at a special meeting next week.
Woods declined to comment following the board's meeting Wednesday.
Warning that the federal government is threatening a takeover of the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority, Parish President Mike Yenni on Monday…
In June 2017, HUD identified a litany of problems with the Marrero-based agency. Those included mold in both vacant and occupied units, a lack of or incorrect financial records, and inadequate policies governing purchases and other procedures. Woods, who had become executive director just a couple of months earlier, promised to work to resolve those problems.
In October 2018, HUD said the agency's recordkeeping for the voucher program had also run afoul of federal guidelines and the authority therefore was effectively in default and at risk of being taken over, according to a letter sent by a HUD administrator.
And in March, HUD noted that several issues remained unresolved. It said the local authority "failed to provide a board-approved occupancy plan to turn around all vacant units, and to address mold issues."
Board Chairman Brian Davis said Thursday that a dozen apartments had been identified with mold and have been gutted. Work on them is ongoing, he said.
The Housing Authority has also failed to produce policies on inventory, updated bylaws or an administrative plan, HUD said. Those items "require action," according to a letter sent to Woods in March.
In stepped Yenni, with his request for Woods' resignation and offer of parish help, a move that even earned thanks from former Sheriff Newell Normand, who is on the housing agency's board but is not a political ally of Yenni.
Normand said that in his discussions with HUD, he had not been led to believe that Woods' removal was required to prevent takeover, or even that takeover was imminent. The failure, he said, was on the part of the board.
"We have failed in developing a culture and environment where we can be successful," said Normand, who in the past called for a federal takeover of the agency. "I believe we have failed our constituents."
After the meeting, Davis said the agency would likely mount a "national search" for Woods' successor.
Even accepting the resignation was not a straightforward affair for a board that has been chaotic for years, mounting fights over bylaws, the seating of board members and even who can call a meeting.
The resignation won't be voted on until a special meeting is held because the board could not get the required unanimous vote to amend the agenda in order to vote on the issue Wednesday.
The Jefferson Parish Housing Authority is — once again — descending into chaos.
By resigning voluntarily, Woods is entitled to three months of severance pay.