Fed funds restored for La Joya Housing

LA JOYA — Federal funding has been restored for the La Joya Housing Authority following months of being cut off by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Executive Director Ruben O. Villarreal delivered the good news to the board commissioners during a board meeting Wednesday.

“We have struggled from day one that I entered here in September with funding for this organization,” Villarreal said. “We’ve had a lot of heartaches, we’ve had a lot of difficult moments, a lot of very difficult decisions.”

For months, the housing authority ran as a property management system, Villarreal said, relying on rent from their tenants to pay the bills.

However, he praised the tenants, noting that the rent delinquency rate dropped from 52% when he first took on the role of executive director in September, to about 6% at the end of December.

The last time they had access to those funds was in April 2019, Villarreal said. It was then that they were designated “troubled” by HUD because of the failing score they received under the Public Housing Assessment System due to their expenses equaling more than their revenue, their poor rent collection, and their below average occupancy of units, according to a July 1 letter from HUD.

Since then, Villarreal and the board have taken steps to be in compliance with HUD including adopting a recovery agreement through which they detailed the steps they would take to address deficiencies flagged in their 2018 fiscal year audit.

Villarreal said he also reached out to the offices of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Sen. Ted Cruz for assistance.

“They helped me communicate the desperate need of this organization to HUD and because of that I’m here to announce to you that this morning around 9:30 a.m. I inputted a voucher — it’s a request for funds — to the tune of $79,944,” Villarreal said. “We should be receiving that money within three or four working days.”

Villarreal said those funds were from what they should have received in 2019 and that they haven’t even touched money for 2020. He also noted that so far, only funds for operating expenses have been made available but hopes HUD will soon allow them access to funds for capital improvements.

“They’re wisely taking it one step at a time,” Villarreal said of HUD. “And I’m glad because it’s a lot.”

“So from this day forward this organization is no longer cash-strapped, we’re no longer a non-funded government agency, we’re no longer the struggling housing authority from western Hidalgo County,” Villarreal said.

Following the news, the board members took turns thanking Villarreal for his efforts.

“I’m very proud of the employees, I’m proud of you, I’m proud of the board members that I’ve worked with here,” said Vice Chair Jorge Bazan. “We never gave up.”

Board member Yvette Flores also praised Villarreal for his work.

“I’m impressed with everything that you’ve been doing and thank you a lot Mr. Villarreal because everybody here is going to benefit,” Flores said, “especially the tenants, and that’s really what we want.”