Sonoma County Launches Affordable Housing Oversight Review Following Newspaper Investigation

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Sonoma County’s top housing official examines the county’s affordable housing compliance monitoring and enforcement after a Democratic press investigation showed limited oversight at an apartment complex run by the county’s corporations. developer Bill Gallaher.

Acting Director of the Community Development Commission, David Kiff, began the review just days after the newspaper published an investigation into a $ 500,000 settlement that Gallaher-owned companies paid a former employee.

The employee, former Vineyard Creek property manager Mariah Clark, claimed she was fired after discovering a large-scale affordable housing fraud at the 232-unit complex, which has 47 affordable units. The 15-year-old resort is located near the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, north of Santa Rosa.

Kiff intends to conclude her review, which is being conducted in consultation with county administrator Sheryl Bratton, and report to the supervisory board by the end of the year, county officials say.

Kiff and other officials have presented the review as a general overview of how his agency monitors properties for compliance with affordable housing agreements. There is no indication that the county is investigating the underlying allegations of fraud described in Clark’s trial.

Clark accused the Gallaher companies of renting rent-limited apartments to family members and friends of the Gallaher even though they were making too much money to qualify.

She also alleged that companies overcharged low-income residents’ rent and scammed government agencies over rent subsidies.

The Press Democrat discovered that county and state officials were relying on Vineyard Creek’s self-claims about people living in affordable housing, their income levels and the amount charged. An Aug. 22 article showed officials had never conducted a full audit that would have determined whether the resort was in compliance with its affordable housing deal, which was struck in exchange for $ 35 million in exempt bonds. state tax and county zoning concessions. .

Gallaher, founder of Oakmont Senior Living, has developed retirement homes and assisted living facilities in California and Nevada. Actively involved in regional policy, he is also founder and chairman of Poppy Bank, based in Santa Rosa.

The five companies named as defendants in Clark’s lawsuit denied any wrongdoing in legal files filed before the case was settled. Emails to Gallaher Companies and Molly Flater, the daughter and business partner of Bill Gallaher and COO of Vineyard Creek, requesting comment on the Kiff review went unanswered by Friday afternoon.

Kiff told The Press Democrat he wanted to make sure the county “does everything anyone else does or does better” when it comes to monitoring compliance. He did not specify to what extent his review would include a compliance audit at Vineyard Creek Apartments.

The allegations against Vineyard Creek were a “trigger point,” said Lynda Hopkins, chairman of the supervisory board, “but the result has been a broader look at ensuring compliance.”

“Of course, the issues that were raised (in Democratic press reporting) required further analysis,” said Supervisor James Gore, whose 4th District includes Vineyard Creek Apartments.

The now settled whistleblower trial alleged lax enforcement by authorized officials for wrongdoing in the apartment complex. In a subsequent Press Democrat article published last month, two former Gallaher employees told the newspaper they recalled little compliance oversight by county or state officials. The two former employees also said they were never contacted by government officials during the county period and state officials said they were investigating the allegations in the trial, a period that lasted more than a year.

In an interview on Friday, a former housing commission worker described a system in which a single official was responsible for monitoring the compliance of up to 1,500 affordable housing units at any one time – only half of her duties .

Despite this, Felicity Gasser, who worked at the Community Development Commission from February 2014 to August 2020, said she believed the agency was effective in maintaining compliance. The regulatory overlap of state housing agencies and the fact that nonprofits dedicated to affordable housing manage many units have helped keep the system honest, Gasser said.

In properties that did not receive federal grants, county regulators were not required to conduct regular audits of tenant records. Vineyard Creek falls into this category. Because the property had tax-exempt obligations but no affordable housing tax credits, a rarity in the business, it was also not regulated by the state.


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