Arizona

Jan 10, 2014 4:09 PM by Associated Press

US auditors review costly housing project in Ajo

PHOENIX (AP) - Federal auditors are reviewing a project in which the federal government's spent $12.8 million to build 21 homes for Border Patrol agents in Ajo, a remote southern Arizona desert town.

The per-home price tag of more than $600,000 for the project in Ajo has drawn fire from real estate agents as well as criticism and questions about the project from members of the state's congressional delegation.

Auditors from the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday visited Ajo to interview residents, real estate agents and Customs and Border Protection officials, The Arizona Republic (http://bit.ly/19hXw7R) reported.

The project also involved spending more than $2 million to buy 20 trailer homes and to lease land on which to park them. The housing project opened in February 2013.

The cost of the housing was first reported by the Republic last August.

Real estate agents and residents complained that CBP officials grossly overpaid to build the houses at a time when the town already has an abundance of low-cost housing.

"Customs and Border Protection claimed there were no suitable houses in this community," said Linda Sharp, a real estate agent and critic of the project. "There are at least 100 quality homes for sale here, and at least 100 rentals."

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, whose district includes Ajo, asked the Inspector General to look into the "tremendous" costs.

CBP has said the housing was needed to help accommodate some of the additional agents assigned to the area as part of a massive buildup in manpower in southern Arizona, the main corridor for illegal immigration along the Mexican border and a major drug-smuggling route.

CBP also has said the costs associated with the 21 houses were driven in part by energy-efficiency measures.

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