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City housing authority says answers coming soon

| Tuesday, June 5, 2001, 12:00 p.m.

The Pittsburgh Housing Authority is developing a more detailed response to a federal audit released in May that questioned more than $8 million of agency spending.

'We're putting together a more intense reply to the Inspector General's report,' said Moe Coleman, chairman of the authority's board of directors.

The authority hopes its upcoming response will clear up the problems cited by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General and prevent the agency from having to repay the money.

'We're still confident we're going to be able to address the federal deficiencies in the audit and get it to a zero figure,' said Keith Kinard, acting executive director of the authority.

The HUD audit of 1998-99 records said the housing authority had misspent $1.4 million and could not explain how it spent another $6.7 million. The authority must resolve the issue with the Inspector General's office this summer or repay $8.1 million.

The audit revealed the authority authorized $8.9 million in changes to 86 contracts, raising the total cost paid by the authority from $5.1 million to $14 million.

In one contract, the authority awarded work to Tony Baiano Construction Co. Inc. for $291,000, but then approved additional payments for $1.25 million, according to federal records. Company officials did not return calls seeking comment Monday.

The criminal-investigations wing of the Inspector General's office had already been looking into potential wrongdoing at the housing authority in May. The status of that investigation is not known.

Housing authority officials have disputed some of the audit's findings, saying most of the problems resulted from clerical and procedural errors. The authority issued a response May 2, contesting the audit's conclusions and offering various explanations.

Coleman said the authority's new response would be more detailed than the seven-page letter sent May 2. He also said the response would be made public after it is sent to the auditors.

The authority's finance department is working on a response, which will be reviewed by HUD's Pittsburgh office to determine if it's adequate, according to Kinard.

Then, a formal response will be sent to the Inspector General's Philadelphia office, he said.

'This is the process that occurs,' he said.

Jim Ritchie can be reached at jritchie@tribweb.com or (412) 320-7933.

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