On August 20, HUD published the long-awaited final rule amending the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) portability regulations. The purpose of the amendments is to clarify existing requirements, streamline the portability process for public housing agencies (PHAs), and make it easier for families with vouchers to relocate to areas that may offer greater opportunities. Portability allows a family with a voucher to use it to rent a home anywhere in the country where there is a PHA operating a HCV program. A voucher holder who is moving from one jurisdiction to another is considered to be “porting in.”
Proposed changes to the voucher portability regulations were published on March 28, 2012 (see Memo, 4/6/12). NLIHC signed on to a comment letter submitted by the Housing Justice Network supporting all of the proposed changes (see Memo, 6/1/12), many of which are in the final rule.
The PHA in the jurisdiction from which a family moves is called the “initial PHA” while the PHA in the jurisdiction to which a family is moving is called the “receiving PHA.” The final rule clarifies existing language by stating that a receiving PHA cannot refuse to assist families wishing to “port in,” and cannot direct them to another neighboring PHA. However, HUD may determine that in certain situations a receiving PHA is not required to accept a family wishing to port in, for instance a PHA in a disaster area.
If there is more than one neighboring PHA, the final rule requires the initial PHA to provide the family with contact information for all receiving PHAs in the area and allow the family to choose the jurisdiction to which it would like to move. The old rule left the decision up to the initial PHA.
Some of the rule changes would affect all families with vouchers who wish to move, not just those wishing to move to another city. For example, the final rule allows a PHA to deny a move if the PHA does not have sufficient funding for continued assistance. However, the PHA must provide written notice to the local HUD office within ten business days of determining it is necessary to deny a move to a higher-cost unit because of insufficient funding. The preamble to the final rule explains that this provision already exists as part of Notice PIH 2012-42 (see Memo, 10/5/12) and is intended to ensure that families are not unnecessarily prohibited from moving either under portability or within the PHA’s own jurisdiction. The preamble adds that if HUD determines that the PHA has sufficient funds and should allow moves, the PHA must immediately inform the family and process its request to move.
Another example of a change affecting all families with vouchers who wish to move, not just those wishing to move to another jurisdiction, pertains to the time a family has to search for another home. The existing regulations allowed (and the final revised rule continues to allow) any family receiving a voucher up to 60 days to locate a place to rent. This is called the “initial term.” Once a family has chosen a home to rent, it must submit a request to a PHA for it to complete a Housing Quality Standards (HQS) inspection and approve that home. The old regulations gave PHAs discretion to either extend the initial term or to stop the clock on the term while a family waits for a PHA to approve the family’s request for a home it has selected. The final rule requires PHAs to stop the clock, to “suspend” the voucher term, for all vouchers until a PHA notifies the family in writing whether it approves or denies the home, giving households more time to locate a home.
In cases of voucher portability, the final rule requires the voucher term of the receiving PHA to last at least 30 days after the initial PHA voucher term expires. If the receiving PHA has a policy allowing extensions of vouchers terms, that policy applies. The intention is to accommodate the additional time the portability process entails. For example, under the old regulations the time a family waits to attend the required briefing about the receiving PHA’s voucher policies counted against the family’s initial voucher expiration date, reducing the time to locate a home.
Advocates strongly urged that the final rule prohibit PHAs from rescreening families. Existing regulations require a family using portability to pass the screening criteria of the receiving PHA, which might be more stringent than the screening criteria of the initial PHA. HUD concludes in the preamble that PHAs should continue to be allowed to use their own screening standards consistently for families already housed as well as for those moving in under portability. However, the final rule adds that when families request portability and are briefed about how portability works, they should be told by the initial PHA that they could be subject to screening by the receiving PHA based on its criteria, which could be very different from that of the initial PHA.
Regarding the required briefing, the final rule also requires the initial PHA to inform residents wishing to port that the receiving PHA may have different subsidy and payment standards, as well as other features to consider. As requested by advocates, the final rule adds that PHAs should provide families with other resources that may assist the family in finding a unit to rent, such as references to organizations, online search tools, and newspapers, including those that cover areas outside of poverty or minority concentration. The final rule also requires the PHA to explain the benefits of living in a low-poverty area.
Also at the required briefing, the existing regulations require PHAs to provide all families with a list of landlords or others who may be willing to rent to the family or help the family find a home. Advocates expressed concern about such lists because many PHAs do not analyze them to ensure that they are not primarily comprised of rentals in areas of high-poverty concentration. In order to be useful, such lists must be required to contain a reasonable share of rental opportunities in areas with lower concentrations of poverty and diverse racial composition. The final rule retains the requirement that a list of landlords be provided, but adds that the list of landlords include those in areas that do not have concentrations of poverty or minority populations.
The final HCV portability rule is at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2015-08-20/pdf/2015-20551.pdf
The Housing Justice Network comment letter of May 29, 2012 is at http://nlihc.org/sites/default/files/HJN_HCV_Ltr_5-29-12.pdf