The state House of Representatives wants the sun to shine on deals designed to offer low-income housing to the poor. State Rep. Rickey Hardy's bill to make affiliates of housing authorities subject to the state's public records law won overwhelming support in the House, which voted 97-0 to strip their exemption from the sunshine law. Hardy, who played a key role in helping to expose potential corruption in the Lafayette Housing Authority (the feds continue to investigate, but there is ample evidence of wrongdoing), wants the public to be able to review the deals designed to bring much-needed low-income housing developments to Lafayette.
Affiliates of housing authorities are defined as any corporation, entity, partnership, venture, syndicate, or arrangement in which a local housing authority has an ownership or governance interest of less than a majority. For the only such venture complete and operational, St. Antoine Gardens, an independent auditor found that the LHA improperly used as much as $1 million of Section 8 and other funds for repairs, upkeep and an employee's salary.
One sentence of the 1997 state law exempts affiliates by virtue of their association with housing authorities, shielding these affiliates' paper trails from public scrutiny: "Affiliates of housing agencies shall not, by virtue of their affiliation with such local housing agencies, become subject to the laws of this state applicable to public agencies and their governing bodies, including but not limited to laws pertaining to public disclosure of records, open meetings, minimum wage rates applicable to government contracts and employees, if any, procurement of goods and services, and laws relating to public employees."
Hardy's legislation effectively strips that sentence, making it possible for the public, the taxpayers, to see who is involved in these developments, how the money is being spent, who is profiting from them and whether there are conflicts of interest. For the purposes of the public records law, these affiliates will be considered public bodies.
Let's hope the state Senate sees the House's wisdom.