Feds take over Cocoa housing authority amid $1.3M dispute

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COCOA, Fla. —

A million-dollar dispute took a dramatic turn when the federal government moved in Monday and took control of Cocoa's housing authority, accused of violating federal law.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development insists the city's agency owes the Brevard County Housing Authority $1.3 million.

Cocoa Housing Authority commissioners said they haven't seen proof of a debt.

The dispute goes back to 2006.

Housing Authority of the City of Cocoa Executive Director Marc Starling and his employees operate under board authority, independent of the city of Cocoa. Attorney David Baker is the board's attorney.

"(A) representative of HUD brought local law enforcement and took over the HUD office, removing the executive director and some other employees," Baker said.

Over the last couple of years, there's been a disagreement over a debt between $1.3 million and $1.6 million that HUD believes is owed to the Brevard County Housing Authority.

The board insists it hasn't seen the source documentation for that debt.

HUD said the housing authority improperly used $1.3 million for unauthorized predevelopment and development expenses.

HUD called Monday's takeover a last resort. It said it hopes to quickly resolve the housing authority's issues.

Even though the city doesn't run the housing authority, the issue with HUD does create issues for the city -- like the blocks of vacant land cleared for redevelopment that can't happen now.

The board's attorney says capital improvements could also suffer.

Some area residents, like Marlene Babendreier, hope the HUD takeover will pave the way for redevelopment. She bought a home in a community planned by the Cocoa housing authority.

"I've been here since 2006; I can't go anywhere else. All my money is into that home," Babendreier said.

The board is looking at its legal options. Channel 9 was told that could include a request for an injunction to try to regain control of the housing authority.