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Inspector General: HUD Wasted $1.1M

September 6, 2001

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government wasted $1.1 million on a program that told public housing tenants which gemstones, types of incense and clothing colors would best improve their self-esteem, an internal audit found.

The Creative Wellness Program was funded through a federal anti-drugs and crime program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development starting in 1998. But in a report released Wednesday, the HUD inspector general found scant evidence the money had resulted in less substance abuse or violent crime in the public housing projects.

``This represents an excessive and ineffective use of public housing drug elimination funds with no measurable benefits,″ the report said.

The inspector general also said that HUD employee Gloria Cousar, then deputy assistant secretary for public and assisted housing delivery, likely misused her position by awarding the contract for the program to Michelle Lusson, with whom she had a long-standing relationship through their joint leadership of the Virginia-based Community Center for Holistic Healing and other capacities. The inspector general said Cousar did not make enough of an effort to look for alternative contractors.

HUD spokeswoman Nancy Segerdahl said the department agreed wholeheartedly with the inspector general’s conclusions about the wellness program.

The creative wellness program has been suspended and the contract with Lusson’s Washington-based nonprofit, National Institute for Medical Options, was not renewed.

``The bottom line is, gemstones, mood rings, don’t mean much to a family going without a roof over their heads,″ Segerdahl said. ``It’s pretty clear the program did little to further the mission of HUD.″

Cousar has been removed from the position and no longer has authority to sign off on grant awards, although she still works in the agency’s public housing division, Segerdahl said. Additional disciplinary action will be considered.

The wellness program, begun under then-Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo but canceled this year with his support, aimed to make public housing residents feel better about themselves and thus be less likely to be involved with drugs, domestic violence or crime.

The wellness effort was funded through HUD’s $310 million drug-elimination program, which the Bush administration has proposed killing.

The wellness program provided ample ammunition to Republican critics of the drug-elimination program, which provides grants to municipal housing authorities for a variety of crime- and drug-fighting efforts. Congress is considering competing spending bills that would either cut the anti-drug program as Bush wants or restore full funding for it.

Though New Age-style techniques, wellness trainers poked participants in the glands to determine a person’s personality type, named after 14 Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. Then, participants were counseled on the kind of diet, exercise, colors, gemstones and incenses they should surround themselves with to reduce stress and boost self-esteem.

The program was taught in public housing projects in nine cities, through two grants awarded to NIMO in 1998 and 2000 totaling $1.1 million.

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