An audit by the HUD Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that the HUD Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) did not have policies and procedures to adequately ensure that public housing agencies (PHAs) properly addressed, assessed, and fulfilled requests for reasonable accommodations from people with disabilities. PIH also did not perform civil rights front-end reviews as required.
OIG cites three reasons for these failures: (1) PIH compliance monitoring guidance does 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 believe it was responsible for conducting civil rights front-end reviews but rather assumed that front-end civil rights reviews were to be carried out by HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO).
Due to these shortcomings, PHAs did not receive consistent reasonable accommodation oversight and may not be properly implementing existing requirements or understanding their responsibilities related to requests for reasonable accommodation. In particular, OIG noted that many PHAs were not informing residents of their right to a reasonable accommodation during annual income recertification. Also, PIH was not in possession of the information that would have been collected during front-end civil rights reviews, and FHEO could not use this information to address issues that may have been identified or to pursue corrective actions.
A reasonable accommodation is a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary to ensure that a person with a disability has an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling or common area or fulfill the obligations of their program. A reasonable modification is a structural change made to existing premises, occupied or to be occupied by a person with a disability, in order to afford that person full enjoyment of the premises.
Federal laws require housing providers to make reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications for individuals with disabilities. Federal nondiscrimination laws – such as the “Fair Housing Act” and Section 504 of the “Rehabilitation Act of 1973” – that protect against disability discrimination cover not only tenants and home seekers with disabilities but also buyers and renters without disabilities who live or are associated with individuals with disabilities. These laws also prohibit housing providers from refusing residency to people with disabilities or placing conditions on their residency because they require reasonable accommodations or modifications.
PIH is responsible for overseeing PHA operations, which should include processing reasonable accommodation requests in public housing. FHEO is responsible for receiving and investigating complaints under the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination has occurred or is about to occur. An October 12, 1999, Federal Register notice revised overall HUD policy regarding front-end civil rights reviews, including by requiring HUD’s various program offices, like PIH, to conduct civil rights front-end reviews. PIH and FHEO entered into a joint agreement establishing their respective roles and responsibilities, which included requiring PIH Field Staff to obtain a PHA’s Section 504 compliance protocol checklist containing a PHA’s reasonable accommodation policies and procedures and accessible unit counts.
OIG recommends that PIH undertake six actions to address the issue:
- Update compliance monitoring guidance to include a requirement for Field Office staff to review a PHA’s reasonable accommodations policies and procedures.
- Update and consolidate reasonable accommodation policies and procedures to ensure there is centralized guidance available for Field Offices and PHAs.
- Conduct additional outreach efforts to educate tenants and PHAs on their reasonable accommodation rights and responsibilities.
- Require PHAs to track reasonable accommodation requests and make them available to PIH; tracking should include request date, type, outcome, and date of any action taken.
- Review the joint agreement between PIH and FHEO and the related Section 504 checklist, and modify, update, or recommit to the agreement to ensure that the roles and responsibilities of PIH for conducting civil rights front-end reviews are clearly defined.
- Ensure that Field Office staff receive training on how to conduct civil rights front-end reviews, including a review of reasonable accommodation policies and procedures for PHAs.
PIH is in the process of creating a new chapter on fair housing for its updated Public Housing Occupancy Guidebook. The chapter will combine all reasonable accommodation guidance and include guidance from three other Guidebook chapters (“Income Determination” pertaining to live-in aides, “Pet Ownership,” and “Transfers”) and from earlier PIH Notices 2010-26 and 2011-31.
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
Find FHEO’s webpage regarding fair housing in relation to disabilities at: https://bit.ly/3pzhzd0
Read more about public housing on page 4-30 of NLIHC’s 2021 Advocates’ Guide.