Iowa demands United Neighbors repay $235,000 for rental assistance program

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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - In a letter delivered Thursday, the State of Iowa now demands United Neighbors repay $235,600 it spent on a rental assistance program. The state, citing an audit of tenant files, said United Neighbors violated its contract.

This all started back in October when United Neighbors new Executive Director Evelyn Nelson asked the state for help regarding the rental assistance program. The state said the program was providing rental subsidies for 104 tenants.

After Nelson contacted the state in October, a state manager visited and determined the program should be suspended. That took effect in November, cutting off nearly 100 tenants from their rent subsidies. United Neighbors worked to recertify people in the program to get their rent help flowing again. The agency recertified 21 and Nelson said those 21 tenants were able to get some assistance from other sources.

However, the state asked to audit those 21 tenants, and picked five random files. In those five files the state found numerous problems. The state said the files didn't contain lead or housing inspections. The state found United Neighbors hadn't calculated incomes properly and in one file broke federal rules by paying a tenant's delinquent utility bill.

Of the $235,600 total, only $41,573 was sent to United Neighbors after Executive Director Evelyn Nelson took over. The rest was received and spent under the watch of former director Ida Johnson. Johnson and three other ex-employees have filed lawsuits against United Neighbors for wrongful termination and other claims.

Johnson's lawsuit said the rental assistance program complied with all federal rules while she worked there. Her lawyer, Anthony Bribriesco, said he wrote that as part of developing a background in the lawsuit. Bribriesco said the four lawsuits have nothing to do with the rental assistance program.

United Neighbors can appeal the state's decision. Nelson did not return messages seeking comment.

United Neighbors has been conducting a forensic audit of its programs since November. The group also receives federal money through the City of Davenport. Davenport officials have withheld new grants to United Neighbors pending the completion of that audit.