Dallas stimulus spent on improving corporate property

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by JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on December 15, 2010 at 11:26 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 16 at 2:12 AM

DALLAS - Records reveal the city paid a contractor $5 per bulb to screw in hundreds of new fluorescent lamps at 47 apartment units in Oak Cliff.

Paid invoices show a contractor working for the City of Dallas charges that much for installation. The city then bills taxpayers another $5 for the bulb itself.

The revelation is another questionable cost News 8 has uncovered regarding how the city spends stimulus money to be used for improving energy efficiency at low-income homes.

"Taxpayers aren't getting their money out of any of this," said Allen Gwinn, a taxpayer watchdog.

Light bulbs, door sweeps, new air conditioners and other improvements were made in 47 units in August at the St. James Manor Apartments in Oak Cliff. The improvements resulted in the biggest check Dallas has written so far for the Weatherization Assistance Program. The total bill was over $289,000, which breaks down to an average of about $6,100 spent on each unit.

Property records from the Dallas Central Appraisal District show the Oak Cliff complex is owned by a corporation in Sherman Oaks, California. Its website boasts the company has acquired or developed $500 million in property. Most of it, according to the property list, was for dozens of low-income apartments nationwide.

A resort and spa is listed on its portfolio, along with a master-planned golf course community. But, since low-income families live in the Oak Cliff apartments, the corporate owner qualified for capital improvements, at taxpayers' expense.

Stimulus rules allow it.

"Can they get money?" Gwinn said. "Can they take hard-earned taxpayer money and spend it on this? Yes. Should they do it? That's probably a no."

Over the last few days, News 8 discovered Dallas has paid exorbitant prices for light bulbs, water heaters and thermostats, among other things for its weatherization program.

The city said contractors include overhead, transportation and their profit in those higher prices.

Recent state reviews criticized the city for misspending some stimulus money and ordered Dallas to pay back thousands. But, the city's own audit last month didn't show any such discrepancies.

"We're not in the business of overspending for light bulbs or toilet seats," said council member Steve Salazar. "We want to make sure we get the most benefit for whatever dollar we spend in an individual's home."

He said he will call the city auditor, housing director and assistant city manager to answer questions at the new Housing Committee meeting he chairs in January.

Dallas is spending stimulus funds to make repairs and improvements on two other low-income apartment complexes, one of which is also owned by that same California corporation.

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