Doug Lingner's Tenure at the Housing Authority of Maricopa County Has Been Marked by Nepotism, Cronyism -- and Plenty of Turmoil

It started with the boss' brother.

Doug Lingner had been executive director of the Housing Authority of Maricopa County for just two months when he hired his brother to repair a carport at the agency's Seventh Street complex. Total cost: $2,000.

Now, that wasn't such a big deal. Yes, state law should have stopped Lingner from hiring a family member for anything. (The agency, which works to provide affordable housing, receives much of its funding from the government, so nepotism is strictly verboten.)

The housing authority's complex on North Seventh Street
Michael Ratcliff
The housing authority's complex on North Seventh Street

But Lingner, a former Phoenix city councilman, was new to the position. And his brother was paid only $2,000. Hard to get too worked up about that.

Then Lingner hired his teenage son and his nephew, paying them $1,000 each to clear the housing authority's parking lot after a storm.

And then he hired an old friend, this time for a full-time job. And a former colleague from the city council, as a lobbyist.

Then he hired a public relations firm that not so long ago had supported his council campaigns. And he hired his brother again — this time for more money.

It got to the point where employees at the Housing Authority started making nervous jokes. "Next year we won't have a Christmas party," they said. "Next year, it'll be a family reunion."

Then Lingner hired his son, for a full-time temp job. The kid is 17 years old. Seventeen!

Even as Lingner hired him, he fired a single mother of two, telling her there simply wasn't enough money to keep paying her salary.

That's when people stopped joking. That's when people got mad.


Eighteen months ago, the Housing Authority of Maricopa County, or HAMC, hired Doug Lingner to be its executive director. Soon after his hiring, New Times published a column suggesting he was woefully unqualified.

But no one could have predicted how quickly, or how badly, Lingner would screw things up.

Our investigation shows that, in Lingner's 18-month tenure at the HAMC, he's repeatedly flouted agency bylaws and, in some cases, may have violated the law.

It's not just that the housing authority has become a stomping ground for Lingner's friends and family, although that's certainly the case. And it's not just that much of the federal stimulus money administered by the agency is going to Lingner's friends and political supporters. That's true, too.

And it isn't even only that Lingner has wasted tax dollars on perks for himself. (A New Times review of housing authority credit card statements shows that, even as government agencies across the country tighten their belts, Lingner has treated himself to lunches, valet parking, and travel to Las Vegas.)

It's all of the above.

It's that he's hired cronies rather than qualified people. He's wasted money. When the Reverend Oscar Tillman, who runs the local NAACP, asked Lingner to explain why he fired a young black woman to make room for his son, Lingner spent more than a month ducking his calls. The agency is now almost certainly facing a lawsuit over the woman's firing.

Lingner takes it all in stride. He agreed to answer New Times' questions earlier this week and appeared to have a ready answer for almost everything. (One notable exception: who selected firms for construction and development work. Lingner refused to answer, saying the matter is part of an internal investigation.) For the most part, he was friendly, chatty, and befuddled as to why anyone would think there's a problem at his agency.

He chalked up the issues identified by New Times to growing pains. He's trying to change the way the HAMC does business, he says. Of course he's ruffled some feathers.

But Lingner's management has clearly led to big problems at the HAMC — problems that can't help but affect the agency's mission of providing affordable housing.

The agency has an annual budget of $20 million, although it's also picked up additional millions recently, thanks to federal stimulus money. Its 50 or so employees manage nine low-income apartment complexes and work to counsel families into housing, be it Section 8 apartments or the purchase of a home.

This is a critical time for any housing authority.

"So many people are losing their jobs, not only in the cities, but also in the country," says Luisa Stark, chair of the Phoenix Consortium to End Homelessness. "We need to find a way to make housing more affordable to more people." Records show the agency's waiting list has thousands of names on it — and that list is only growing.

Yet instead of focusing on those very real issues, the housing authority under Lingner has attempted to establish itself as a big-deal developer, pitching ambitious programs for stimulus funds. So far, those efforts have failed, even as the agency has become engulfed in drama — much of it apparently caused by Lingner's poor decision-making and subsequent clumsy attempts to deal with the fallout.

New Times has been in contact with numerous people associated with the HAMC. They describe a climate of fear that took root when a soon-to-be-terminated employee threatened to expose Lingner's "corruption" to the housing authority's board of commissioners. Employees were instructed not to provide information to the former worker; one of her close friends at the agency, a temp, was told that his position was being eliminated. (Soon thereafter, a different temp was hired.)

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13 comments
Marcy
Marcy

""We need to find a way to make housing more affordable to more people.""

Utter nonsense. Housing is already dirt cheap.

What we need to do is find a way to make PEOPLE more responsible.

The reason most people spend decades in public housing is because they've been spending their entire life making poor choices, all at public expense. Stop enabling people.

JJ
JJ

Ellman is up to his neck in the Sheriff's Command Association. I wonder if there is a connection Fenske missed between HAMC and Arpaio's crappy real estate empire? Keep digging, Sarah.

As far as Lingner goes, he will be having some quality times with a HUD OIG agent very soon. Look for charges including Theft of Honest Services and Obstruction.

Bye, Doug.

rick lingner
rick lingner

what goes around comes around , i hope that your brother sees this as well. you never got anything for your dads well so you have to go after the taxes payers money.

Carlos
Carlos

With all of the corruption going on in state, local and federal government this is the best you could come up with? The money he doled to his son and relatives is unethical but it really is just chump change. Why is the government even involved with housing in the first place? The last time I read the constitution there was no amendment guaranteeing the right to free or subsidized housing. I've read several of your articles before Ms. Fenske and this one is not your best work. That's allright we all have bad days. Why not take a look at the billions of dollars the governmnent is funneling nationally and the millions of dollars locally that is being funneled to developers, bankers, the community groups, and many other sundry agencies, quasi-agencies, private public partnerships. etc. That's how you'll win your Pulitzer.

Stacy
Stacy

Many of those guys are contributors to Arapio's campaigns .. check it out.

James Bailey
James Bailey

Sarah, you should follow up on Casa de Paz I & II (formerly the Roeser apartments at 18th St. & Roeser). They've been HORRIBLY mismanaged for over a year now and I'm guessing some shenanigans have been pulled regarding that project. 100s of people have lost their homes, the mgmnt is not fixing or repairing existing resident's apartments (my friend lives with a huge hole in the roof and ceiling due to a malfunctioning Swamp Cooler!) and the whole apartment complex is slated to be demolished with the existing tenants (all Section 8) being evicted with no place to go!!!

This place has in the past been used by religious types to ShowBoat their concern for the poor so I'm guessing there's some one that's also going to profit handsomely by demoslishing them and buildling some new project with stimulus money.

A lot of my band members (including Michael Jackson's uncle) and other musicians are living under Section 8 housing and I'm concerned about their welfare.

Thank you for your reportage!

BTW - I helped start New Times by passing out copies of the first issue(s) during the Vietnam Era.

Me
Me

How can anyone defend what this economic terrorist is doing. Then again this is Maricopa County. These defenders of Lingner are probably the same ones that defend Sheriff You-Know-Who. The guy is a crook. You don't need a personal vendetta to see that!!

TommyC
TommyC

It sure seems odd that some of you readers are trying to make this a 'personal' thing with Ms. Fenske. She wrote a story about something that seems to be a problem by a quasi-governmental agency, funded by taxpayer monies.

From her report it seems to me there needs to be a thorough investigation and resulting action taken.

I don't know the guy in this story. So, it's not personal for me. But it appears he is breaking laws and should be charged for those violations, and removed from office.

Now, how do you make my feelings seem personal?

Roger
Roger

I'm all about saving my taxes but how much money was this about? A really hard read given Fenske goes back and forth over 15 years and talks about everything from his neighborhood activism to he wears Hawaiian shirts instead of suits and she really seems to hate the guy. This is personal with her!

BTW: Don't businesses have to submit bids to do work for government $s? Fenske even says that Lingner wanted to give the brother time to finish his bid.

Fire the kid, hire the Mom (if she's qualified) and get back to work Doug!

Mike
Mike

Who do you have to know to get a job at HAMC? Apparently Doug Lingner! Doug, I think I may be your 4th cousin on your moms side, any chance of you hooking me up with a job? Or perhaps I could do some "volunteer" work.

Bob
Bob

Hey Fenske

It sounds like any employee who photo copies documents right before they get fired, might have know they were deserving of it. I wouldn't trust that kind of employee either. And what did Lingner do to you, it sounds like a personal hatred to bring his personal finances from 20 years ago into it. Some people have hard times...

Hope you always stay flush or some reporter might beat you down...

TommyC
TommyC

"The matter is under investigation, he says."

Sarah, does this sound familiar?

Just like the MCSO shurf, if anyone crosses the guy, they become a target of an investigation.

Just like the MCSO shurf, if he is asked a hard question and any documents are requested, "the matter is under investigation".

Where do you suppose Lingner learned this little trick? I wonder what his relationship with the MCSO shurf has been?

SO MANY parallels can be drawn from your report to those known to have occurred with MCSO.

Spank this bitch, Sarah. He apparently deserves it.

 
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