Grassley says housing authority pay a national problem

ccampbell@newsobserver.comFebruary 4, 2014 

Chuck Grassley

The Raleigh Housing Authority is just one of several public housing agencies spending too much money on employee perks, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said during a Senate session last week.

Grassley, an Iowa Republican who’s been in Congress for decades, spoke about outsize salaries and perks among directors of public housing agencies across the country. Grassley cited several examples of agencies where, he said, “federal funds end up feathering the nests of local housing authority bureaucrats instead of housing the poor.”

Grassley mentioned Bradenton, Fla., Tampa, Atlanta and Raleigh. In Bradenton, the senator pointed to a policy that allows employees to work just four days a week, while getting two weeks off at Christmas, two bonuses a year and the use of a free car. Federal investigators discovered that two employees took trips to Jamaica and Busch Gardens during work hours.

By contrast, Raleigh Housing Authority Steve Beam posted in online magic forums during business hours in 2007. Grassley criticized Beam for his use of comp time, which has amounted to 20 days off each year.

“Add that to his regular vacation time, and he was out of the office nearly three months per year,” Grassley said in the Senate speech. “Nine months of work for $280,000 is an annualized salary of nearly $375,000 per year.

“Very few taxpayer-funded jobs pay anything close to that amount. What is the justification for such high salaries?”

But Beam wasn’t among those Grassley cited as the “biggest salary jackpot winners.” That distinction went to Atlanta, where, according to the senator, “at least 22 employees earn between $150,000 and $303,000 per year.”

Grassley says President Barack Obama’s administration needs to curb the salary practices. He called on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to release current salary data for housing directors nationwide. He pointed out that many agencies – Raleigh included – “have turned to creative accounting tricks” to avoid a $155,500 salary cap by using “non-federal sources.”

“If the Obama administration is truly serious about income inequality, and not just using it for political purposes, it would stop shoveling taxpayer money out the door with practically no oversight, no controls, and no limits,” he said, noting the theme of Obama’s State of the Union address.

It’s not the first time Grassley has taken aim at Beam and the Raleigh Housing Authority. He and U.S. Rep. George Holding, a Raleigh Republican, recently called for a federal audit of the agency’s finances. Last week, the agency’s board announced a new contract with Beam that curbs his use of comp time.

The actions follow a News & Observer series about Beam’s salary and comp time.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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