U.S. Customs and Border Protection spent just over $680,000 per dwelling on a project to provide housing for border agents in Ajo, Arizona, though the average home there goes for $86,500.
That was the most jarring finding in a report from CBP’s office of the inspector general, released Thursday.
CBP embarked on the housing project in 2008 because the agency anticipated higher numbers of border crossings in the area around Ajo, which is approximately 40 miles from the Mexican border.
The agency was initially provided $5.5 million to build 12 housing units in the area. But funds were added to the project seven times – often “without adequate justification” – bringing the total spent to approximately $20 million, according to the report.
CBP ultimately built or purchased 21 two- or three-bedroom single-family housing units and 20 mobile homes – many of which sit vacant.
As a result of the agency’s poor planning and cost handling, “CBP spent about $680,000 per house and about $118,000 per mobile home for employee housing in Ajo, which was significantly more than the Ajo average home price of $86,500,” the report states.
The reasons cited by the inspector general for the cost overrun to build the houses are that CBP overpaid for land and built homes with “nonessential” amenities that did not suit the agents – a vast majority of whom are single men – occupying them.
“CBP paid about $975,000, or almost triple the amount it may have actually needed to pay, for 12 acres of land,” according to the inspector general, which “identified about $4.6 million CBP spent on the project that could have been put to better use.”
While it was building the 21 houses, CBP spent $2.4 million to procure 20 mobile homes.
The agency’s handling of that portion of the project highlights its mishandling of the Ajo project in general. To procure five mobile homes in a mobile home park, the agency bought out the occupants’ 75-year leases and also paid for the tenants’ relocation expenses, all at a cost of $575,000.
CBP also paid a twenty percent premium – or $64,350 more – on the appraised value of the land.
Making matters worse, the transaction wasn’t even necessary to meet CBP’s needs in the area.
“According to the Ajo study, CBP did not need the portion of land with mobile homes to satisfy OFO’s housing needs,” the report found.
The OIG report notes that between Oct. 2013 and March 2014, 18 of the 20 mobile units were vacant.