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Monday, January 3, 2011

Regional Centers and Housing

At the Sacramento Bee, Jack Chang reports on the Inland Regional Center, which spent $2.9 million in 2007 to build four houses for clients. The houses are now worth a fraction of what the state paid.

Sixteen of the state's 21 regional centers now work with such nonprofit housing affiliates. Since July 2007, they've developed 37 properties. An additional 60 homes in the Bay Area house residents displaced by the closing of the Agnews Developmental Center. Yet critics, including service providers and legislators, contend that problems have been popping up because the centers and their nonprofit housing affiliates aren't subject to public disclosure requirements that would cast light on how they use state money.

Lots of public money is on the line. Regional centers received $3.4 billion in public funding in the last budget year to serve about 240,000 people.

"This whole new direction that regional centers are taking is very troubling to me," said state Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet, who is planning hearings into the system. "The amount of money that's being spent (on housing) is problematic, and we need to get to the bottom of it."

On top of that, Emmerson plans to investigate compensation in the regional center system, spurred in part by a Bee report in November that showed that the head of one Ontario-based service provider, Benson House, received $520,000 in state-funded salary in 2008 to oversee care for several dozen people.

The state Department of Developmental Services, which administers the regional centers, reviews financial details of individual housing projects, including development costs, said spokeswoman Nancy Lungren. She provided no details about expenses related to the Riverside County projects.

"(The housing) is within the system, and it builds equity, and when the houses are bought and paid for, it stays within the system so the regional center can place its clients into the homes," Lungren said.