New DuPage housing director talks past problems, future goals

David Hoicka took the helm Thursday as director of the DuPage Housing Authority. Now, his first task is to steer the troubled agency back on track.

Hoicka has served in senior management positions for housing agencies in Texas, Louisiana and Hawaii and has written several public housing manuals.

“He is the guy who literally wrote the book,” housing authority board Chairman Thomas Good said.

Hoicka replaces John Day, who was forced to resign last year after the U.S. Inspector General's office released two audits critical of the agency. A third audit charged the agency improperly spent more than $5.8 million in federal money and failed to adequately document another $4.7 million.

That report also called for the agency to repay nearly $5.1 million to the federal government.

On Thursday, Hoicka sat down with the Daily Herald to discuss how he plans to work with a new board of directors to overhaul the agency and what he hopes the future holds.

This is an edited version of that conversation.

Q. What attracted you to this position?

A. There are a variety of really special things about the DuPage Housing Authority. DuPage is one of the largest and (wealthiest) counties in the country, yet there are about 3,000 units of Section 8 housing. That's a combination you don't often have. In addition, there is a lot of positive energy and opportunity in DuPage.

Yes, there are some problems with HUD (The Department of Housing and Urban Development) we're definitely going to address. There are going to be some bumps. But when you look through the bumps, the fundamentals are good.

We have an opportunity to be part of the solution here; to bring $25 million into a depressed economic market that will help low-income people, the disabled, elderly and veterans. There's a bright and positive horizon.

Q. Were you aware of the scandal that hit this agency before you applied?

A. Yes. The board and people putting out notices regarding the job have been open and forthright. HUD has also been open and I've read public documents on the issues. We've had very fruitful and detailed discussions during the interview process, where they asked me hundreds of questions.

A lot of housing authorities have problems they get over. You're dealing with a large number of people with very complicated rules, so it's possible, even by mistake, for bad things to happen.

But the HUD people in Chicago are some of the brightest in the whole country. Some programs they offer are Number 1 in the United States and we have the resources here to work with the brightest minds in HUD. I am 110 percent confident we will work through all of these issues and have a Number 1-quality housing authority.

Q. Now that you're director, what are the crucial next steps for this agency?

A. I think it's about getting down to a base level. We must deal with all of the issues that HUD may have found in the operations or history of the DuPage Housing Authority.

HUD has been careful to send many people to do audits and reviews, which is not necessarily a bad thing. These show how you can do better, how we can improve processes. We're going to be inviting them again. These are taxpayer dollars and we want to efficiently and effectively provide as many services as we can.

We also need to get back to the basics. First, we must deal with staff, HUD and residents with respect, openness and transparency. There are no secrets in the world. By building trust with the county, HUD, and funding sources like the Illinois Housing and Development Authority, people understand that you're trying to do good.

We're not all trying to get rich here. Many or most of us could probably work somewhere else and get more money. Most are here because their heart is in helping veterans, disabled people, the elderly and families. That takes trust, respect, good relationships.

Q. The corrective action plan the DuPage Housing Authority is developing with HUD includes a provision for your agency to repay more than $5 million to the federal government using nonfederal funds. But your agency is primarily funded by federal money. Do you think repayment is even possible?

A. HUD managers are very practical. Much of their upper-level management has been in the business for 20 years or more. They understand reality. I have every confidence they are going to help us find the right solution.

We may not know the right solution today, but with so many bright people there are a lot of different ways to approach these problems. We are dealing with straightforward people who have experience dealing with difficult, difficult problems.

Q. In April, your predecessor, interim director Cathy Terrill, told the DuPage County Board someone could face criminal charges in the wake of this agency's financial scandal. Can you provide an update?

A. I'm not the investigator (and I) can't address specific legal or technical issues; that's their job. HUD people are studying the issues and I can't speak for them. But I come here with no preconditions or specific instructions.

Tom (Good) said to me “You're our healer, we want to heal the issues as best we can and move forward.” So we are opening a new chapter. We want to resolve these issues in a positive and fair manner. But I don't yet know what that's going to be.

I do know we don't want to spend the next year, two or three, going in circles and being stuck in the past. There are great things we can do and there is a terrific need. According to census data, there's been an uptick in poverty in a number of DuPage areas. There are people out there who are hurting and we have the resources to be part of the solution.

We are not only looking to renovate and rehabilitate (housing), we want to form new partnerships with nonprofits here and throughout the country.

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  David Hoicka Bev Horne/
  David Hoicka said he realizes he faces numerous challenges as the new director of the DuPage Housing Authority, but “I am 110 percent confident we will work through all of these issues and have a Number 1-quality housing authority.” Bev Horne/
  DuPage Housing Authority Chairman Tom Good, left, introduced David Hoicka as the agency’s new director. “He is the guy who literally wrote the book” on public housing, Good said. Bev Horne/
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