NewsTeam 10 Investigates


San Diego County's flood housing contractor making up to $256 an hour amid complaints of poor service

Kentucky-based Equus employees -- despite a rash of complaints -- making at least double what a typical San Diego household earns, shocking flood victims who tell Team 10 confusion reigns.
Flood victims say they are shocked at how much San Diego County is paying Equus
Posted at 5:46 PM, Apr 10, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — San Diego County’s emergency housing contractor, which has come under fire for bad service for flood victims, is making up to $256 an hour for its employees, Team 10 has found.

Team 10, through a public records request, found that the lowest-paid Equus employee is making just more than $100 an hour. That's more than double the typical household income in San Diego.

The company, meanwhile, would not say how many employees were receiving those wages, and the county declined to immediately release billing records of Equus.

Flood victims have vigorously complained to San Diego County officials about bad service and confusion from Equus running the emergency housing voucher program.

They told Team 10 that they were shocked to learn about how much the Kentucky-based company was making.

Equus officials declined to comment, while county officials defended the payouts as "fair and reasonable" hourly rates as they include overhead and related costs.

'They don't deserve this'

Flood victims disagree.

“Wow….They don’t deserve this,” said Lisa Sheffield, who has been living at The Ramada in National City after her Spring Valley home flooded. “I’m fuming right now. It’s ridiculous. That contract definitely needs to be severed….They are just getting richer for not doing work.” 

Lisa Sheffield
Lisa Sheffield (center, wearing maroon sweater) speaks at a community event for flood victims. She said the amount of money paid to emergency housing contractor Equus is "ridiculous."

Flood victims Dwayne Crews and Moises Godinez, who also have been living at the Ramada, said it’s been a constant state of confusion with Equus over living accommodations. 

“I’ve already had two or three kind of bad run ins with them and mostly miscommunication,” Crews said. “They are just not good at their jobs… If the taxpayers knew how they were handling us, they would have fired them a long time ago.” 

Godinez said he feels like just “a number” for Equus to make money. 

“We were not treated like people. We were treated like numbers. For me, it was like money numbers. That’s it,” Godinez said.

Dwayne Crews
Dwayne Crews talks during a community meeting for flood victims on April 8. He said Equus employees have not treated him well because of a lack of communication.

Contractor for over a decade

San Diego County has used Equus as a contractor since 2010.

The company, among its services, provided housing for the homeless and for others during the pandemic. 

The company had a contract in place to provide emergency housing services as needed for San Diego County up to $1 million. 

Then the flood hit, and hundreds of San Diegans were displaced from their homes. 

County supervisors in response to the Jan. 22 flood increased the potential payout to $7 million for Equus, according to public records obtained by Team 10.

"After the Jan. 22 floods, the county needed a contractor with the capacity to promptly transition nearly 1,000 households into temporary emergency shelter... Equus had the skill and size to consolidate those efforts into a single program funded entirely by the County of San Diego," County Chairwoman Nora Vargas said in a statement to Team 10.

She added most of the funding pays for the lodging for flood victims.

Big pay for Equus

However, Equus workers also are well paid, according to a contract obtained by Team 10.

The contract shows the pay rates for the following positions:

  • Admin/Report Specialist: $106.82
  • Housing Navigators: $107.73
  • Project Accountant: $131.98
  • Deputy Project Director: $182.74
  • Project Director: $256.86

Vargas noted that the wages were "determined to be fair and reasonable as they were established by competition." And, she added the wages are "fully burdened rates, inclusive of all overhead and related costs."
The wages, however, are much higher than what typical San Diego residents earn.

U.S. Census data shows the median household income in San Diego is $98,657 or $47.43 an hour.

Equus contract
This contract shows the hourly rates of Equus employees who are working with flood victims on emergency housing.

No breakdown from bill

The county so far has paid Equus $17,555, and the company has submitted a bill for $419,354 for February.

Team 10 asked for those bills and was told by San Diego County to file a public records request for the documents. 

A request was filed, and those records have yet to be turned over.

County Spokesman Michael Workman noted that the current deal with Equus is an “as-needed contract.”

“It is only used when it’s needed so there is no guarantee Equus will get these maximum agreement amounts,” Workman said in an email to Team 10. “In addition, unspent funds are not rolled over into future years.”

Equus: No comment 

Mark Douglass, President & CEO of Equus, and the company declined numerous requests for comment.

Douglass, however, apologized to flood victims last month during a public meeting.

““Everybody in the community, San Diego County, we stand with you and will do what we can to make this right," he said.

But community activist Tasha Williamson said Equus has not made it right.

“This is outrageous. This was kept from everyone; and they paid these people more money than they actually paid for the hotels,” Williamson said of the contract documents uncovered by Team 10. “They paid these people more money than they actually paid for food. It would have been less expensive for them to hire temporary staff on an emergency basis to do the work and to do the work efficiently than to hire Equus.”