Audit finds oversight issues with Harris County Rental Assistance Program

HARRIS COUNTY, TX — A months-old Harris County audit memo obtained by KPRC 2 Investigates reveals a series of problems with the administration of public funds under a county rental assistance program of Harris.

The program was designed to provide relief to both tenants and landlords by paying rent to Harris County residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harris County hired BakerRipley, a non-profit organization with experience running public assistance programs, to run the program, in return BakerRipley earned millions of dollars and a portion of those funds. public, which came from the federal government and were distributed to Harris County.

The Harris County Auditor’s memo cites issues monitoring the rental assistance program. (KPRC-TV)

An outside firm, Guidehouse, also reviewed the program.

The Harris County audit appeared to confirm the findings, some of which dispute BakerRipley.

Overpayments to landlords and payments to claimants who were already receiving funds from another source were cited in the audit as sources of mismanaged public funds.

Harris County Audit Observations Regarding Harris County’s COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program. (KPRC-TV)
BakerRipley Received Millions to Administer Harris County’s COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program (KPRC-TV)

BakerRipley responded to our request for comment by sending KPRC 2 Investigates a copy of its previous response to the Harris County Auditor:

“Dear Mrs. Perkins and Mr. Post:

This information is provided by BakerRipley regarding the recommendations provided by the Harris County Internal Audit Division in its February 25, 2022 memorandum regarding the Guidehouse Monitoring Report for the County of Harris County COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program. Harris owned by BakerRipley. We believe the information in this document provides additional context and a more complete picture of BakerRipley’s efforts and we appreciate the opportunity to include it in the record.

Objective 1 DETERMINE IF PROGRAM SUPERVISION HAS BEEN APPROPRIATE

Recommendation 1. BakerRipley provided responses to Guidehouse’s monitoring report and worked with Guidehouse and Harris County to respond to the findings of the “Report to Harris County, Texas DRAFT dated May 26, 2021.” As your report indicates, BakerRipley met regularly with Guidehouse and Harris County to provide policies, procedures, process maps, and updates on specific items identified in Guidehouse’s report.

Objective 2: PROVIDE A STATEMENT OF RECOVERY OF OVERPAYMENTS BY BAKERRIPLEY

Recommendation 2.1. BakerRipley has provided updates to Guidehouse on overpayment collection since the overpayments were first reported to BakerRipley. BakerRipley has continued to provide updates throughout 2021. We have received a total of $203,481 in refunds through March 31, 2022 in the identified categories, which will be included in our quarterly Guidehouse updates and the Harris County.

Recommendation 2.2 BakerRipley employees are required to send communications from the Rental Assistance Program’s SalesForce database system, which automatically stores a copy of correspondence. The former employee did not follow our standard communication procedure, which was an anomaly. The letters have all been sent and Guidehouse has been informed that the letters have been sent. A copy of the letters sent was stored in the SalesForce database.

Recommendation 2.3 BakerRipley has completed its research and provides the following update: After reviewing the housing situations of all 562 applicants, BakerRipley previously reported our findings at our February 8, 2022 meeting with the Harris County Audit Team , then sent the file with the results on February 9, 2022. We found no duplicate payments between applicants participating in the federal housing programs and the housing assistance program.

Recommendation 3.1 BakerRipley has created an internal procedure to verify contract requirements against the RAP database and rental assistance requests to ensure alignment with program requirements. We hold weekly meetings with RAP team members and new policies and procedures are provided at that time. Written procedures, process maps and policies are also updated at this time.

Recommendation 3.2 BakerRipley believes that our current accounting practices comply with all generally accepted accounting principles. Ultimate responsibility for liability does not rest with BakerRipley, as evidenced by the most recent contract amendment between BakerRipley and Harris County, and registration of claims (and corresponding indemnities) would misrepresent the financial position of the ‘Agency. We believe other internal systems and controls are adequate to track overpayments.

Recommendation 4 BakerRipley works with its sub-recipients and provides the information and direction needed to complete the assignments. Information for RAP 2020, program rules and guidelines, has been published by the US Treasury Department with frequent changes as the program evolves. Program rules and guideline changes issued by Harris County and other local funders have been incorporated in real time with changes and updates received from the Treasury Department. To use a common analogy, we were building the aircraft as we flew it and worked to communicate new expectations and requirements in a timely manner to all stakeholders.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions regarding the information provided. Sincerely,

Barbara Schetter

Barbara Schetter Senior Director of Regional Initiatives BakerRipley »

Copyright 2022 by KPRC Click2Houston – All Rights Reserved.

Comments are closed.