$26,000 'clerical error' keeps Durham mother from buying home, Troubleshooter finds

ByDiane Wilson and Tonya Simpson via WTVD logo
Thursday, May 16, 2019
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A Troubleshooter investigation uncovered a lack of oversight at the Durham Housing Authority (DHA) that forced one family to delay their home ownership dream.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's a program designed to help families transition out of housing assistance, but a Troubleshooter investigation uncovered a lack of oversight at the Durham Housing Authority (DHA) that forced one family to delay their home ownership dream.

A Durham mother reached out to the Troubleshooter after she said she was left with no money for a house and no good answers. We agreed not to identify her in order to protect her children.

The mother of four said she is no stranger to hard work, that's why when her caseworker suggested she sign up for the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program she was ready to take on the challenge.

"Because of the amount of money I was making, they told me it would be a good opportunity for me to go into home ownership," she said. FSS participants are given a list of agreed upon goals as well as other requirements they must meet over five years. "My goals were to finish school, take a home ownership program and correct my credit. I did all that."

Under the program, when a participant's income and rent increase the difference in their previous rent and the new amount is put into an escrow account. If the participant completes their goals over five years, they can withdraw the money and use it for things like a down payment on a home.

Yearly letters sent to this mother showed an escrow balance that grew from $9,706 in 2015 up to $29,033 in 2018. But when she was ready to finish the program, she got heartbreaking news.

"I'm upset because the amount that they told me that I had, which was supposed to be like $29,000, they're telling me it's $2,700 and they can't tell me why."

A review of her file shows her income was entered incorrectly when she started the program in 2014. That error made her escrow balance appear to be higher than it actually was.

DHA officials said they were not aware of the mistake until it was time to pay the money out--money they say never actually existed.

"There was a disconnect between what her true income was and what the program identified as her income, so the contract that we have shows that she signed a contract that shows she was making zero income," DHA Director Anthony Scott said.

Scott said the error in this case prompted an audit of the entire program. Employees found mistakes in several client files, but none were as large as the mistake in this case. Changes are now being made in how client files are audited and how the program is monitored.

"We put some changes in place to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen again," Scott said.

The new procedures are too late for the mother who prompted the change, but she said she hopes it keeps others from going through the same thing.

"It's a disappointment and they let me down, but I feel like I let my kids down," she said.

The housing authority said the mistake was on their end, but there is no way they can give her the money they originally told her she had while in the program.

Officials said they still want to work with her on achieving home ownership.

The mother said while DHA let her down, it's not going to stop her from working hard on her own to achieve homeownership as she wants to show her kids to never give up on a dream.