The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, HUD Rental Assistance: Enhanced Data and Strategy Could Improve Oversight of Accessibility Requirements (GAO-23-105083), on July 20. GAO recommends that HUD systematically collect and maintain requests for reasonable accommodations from households with persons with disabilities for three major programs: the Public Housing, Housing Choice Voucher, and Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance programs. GAO also recommends that HUD develop and implement a strategy for overseeing HUD-assisted housing providers’ compliance with reasonable accountability requests.
GAO’s report explains that the “Fair Housing Act” and Section 504 of the “Rehabilitation Act” require providers of HUD-assisted housing to make reasonable accommodations for households that include someone with a disability. Reasonable accommodations are changes in policies, practices, services, and structures to help ensure that those households can use and enjoy their homes. Reasonable accommodation examples include structural modifications, such as building an entrance ramp or installing lever-style doorknobs, and policy modifications, such as providing a Housing Choice Voucher household extended time to search for a home to lease as well as a higher payment standard to enable a household to rent a larger unit to accommodate a live-in aide.
Discrimination on the basis of disability was the most common reason for fair housing complaints to HUD in fiscal years (FYs) 2017–2021. The majority of these complaints cited failure of housing providers to make reasonable accommodations. Analyzing American Housing Survey data from 2019, GAO found 42% of HUD-assisted renter households included a person with a disability, and of those households 45% had a voucher, 36% lived in a Section 8 PBRA property, and 19% lived in public housing.
A HUD-assisted household may request a reasonable accommodation at any time either orally or in writing. If a household thinks their request was wrongfully denied, they may file a fair housing complaint with FHEO.
HUD-assisted housing providers collect information on the disability status of households and report it to HUD. However, HUD program offices do not systematically collect or report information on the accessibility needs of households assisted by these programs, including whether they requested and received a reasonable accommodation, including a structural modification. According to FHEO, many PHAs do not track reasonable accommodation requests, hampering FHEO’s ability to proactively monitor and enforce compliance.
FHEO currently relies on tenant complaints to enforce disability rights laws, but given the high volume of complaints (about 45% of which in FY21 alleged failure to provide a reasonable accommodation) and inadequate staffing levels, FHEO cannot address all complaints. While securing additional funding to augment enforcement staff is not likely, collecting data on the number and status of reasonable accommodations requests would enable FHEO to devise a comprehensive strategy for overseeing compliance by using the data to identify potentially substantial non-compliance situations to proactively focus on high-impact targets. Aggregate data could help identify patterns of very high rates of denials for reasonable accommodations.
The report follows an audit by HUD’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on February 7, 2022 (see Memo 3/7/22), that found HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) did not have adequate policies and procedures for ensuring public housing agencies (PHAs) properly addressed, assessed, and fulfilled requests for a reasonable accommodation from people with disabilities. OIG cites three reasons for these failures: (1) PIH compliance monitoring guidance did not require Field Office staff to review a PHA’s reasonable accommodation policies and procedures; (2) PIH guidance is not centralized; and (3) PIH did not think it was responsible for conducting civil rights front-end reviews and instead concluded that front-end civil rights reviews were the function of HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO).
Read HUD Rental Assistance: Enhanced Data and Strategy Could Improve Oversight of Accessibility Requirements at: https://tinyurl.com/2p8u2ch8
Read the OIG audit, HUD’s Office of Public and Voucher Programs: Requests for Reasonable Accommodation in Public Housing (Audit Report Number 2022-BO-0001, February 7, 2022) at: https://bit.ly/3C66TaO
FHEO’s webpage regarding fair housing in relation to disabilities is at: https://bit.ly/3pzhzd0