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HUD PIH Posts Sixth Update of COVID-19 FAQs for Public Housing Agencies

HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) posted its sixth update to COVID-19 FAQs for Public Housing Agencies on September 29. The update includes 40 new and 18 updated frequently asked questions (FAQs). All of the updated FAQs indicated by “(Updated 9-29-20)” make only minor changes, often simply referring to more recent PIH notices 2020-13 REV-1 (see Memo, 7/13), 2020-17 (see Memo, 8/10), 2020-18 (see Memo, 8/10), and 2020-24 (see Memo, 9/21). The update also removes all of the FAQs that referred to the now-expired CARES Act eviction moratorium. PIH indicates that it will provide FAQs related to the CDC eviction moratorium that ends on December 31 (see Memo, 9/8, 9/14). Unfortunately, the FAQs do not address whether the additional $300 per week supplemental Unemployment Insurance (plus $100 state match) called for in an August 8 Presidential Memorandum and paid for by a transfer of funds from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) will not be counted as income the way the CARES Act $600 per week supplemental Unemployment Insurance was not counted.

All new FAQs are indicated “(new).” Six address administrative hearings and five refer to Mainstream vouchers, citing PIH Notices 2020-01 and 2020-09 (see Memo, 2/3, 5/18). Nine new FAQs are highlighted here.

Section 4.6 Administrative Hearings (page 18)

The National Housing Law Project (NHLP) sent a letter to PIH on August 10 making initial recommendations regarding remote hearings along with six anecdotes of problems residents and legal services attorneys have experienced with remote hearings. The six new FAQs are apparently in response to the NHLP letter.

The new Section 4.6 Administrative Hearings explains that for the purposes of this section, a “remote hearing” in public housing refers to informal hearings for a denial of admission, informal settlement of a grievance, and formal grievance hearings. In the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program, a “remote hearing” refers to informal reviews for denial of assistance and an informal hearing.

OC38 explains the requirements regarding technology platforms accessible to people with disabilities. To comply with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Fair Housing Act, remote hearings should ensure that any information, websites, emails, digital notifications, and platforms are accessible for people with vision, hearing, and other disabilities. Auxiliary aids and services such as audio description, captioning, sign language and other types of interpreters, keyboard accessibility, accessible documents, screen reader support, and transcripts may also be needed to provide effective communication in a digital context.

OC39 (page 19) explains how the technology platform can accommodate people with limited English proficiency (LEP) to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A public housing agency (PHA) needs to coordinate with a remote language interpretation service before a hearing. If video technology is available, remote interpretation using video is generally preferred over voice-only because of the additional visual cues video offers. For written materials, PHAs should engage a language translation service.

OC40 addresses the problem that some residents do not have access to appropriate technology. PIH provides four best practices to consider and states that if voice-only participation is available, all materials that will be presented during the hearing should be provided to the resident before the hearing.

Section 4.4 Repayment Agreements (page 14)

OC26 explains how a PHA can set up a repayment agreement for a resident unable to report an income decrease to zero due to the coronavirus. PIH “strongly urges” PHAs to allow for retroactive rent adjustments during an interim income reexamination. Notice PIH 2020-18 recommends the monthly retroactive rent payment plus the amount of current rent a resident pays be affordable and not exceed 40% of adjusted monthly income. A PHA, with a resident’s agreement, could suspend the repayment agreement for a set period of time, have quarterly check-ins to reevaluate the resident’s situation, or wait until the resident reports increased income. Existing repayment agreements can be restructured if there is a change (decrease or increase) in a resident’s income.

OC27 adjusts a provision in Notice PIH 2020-18 that stated “if the tenant refuses to enter into a repayment agreement or fails to make payments on an existing or new repayment agreement, the PHA must terminate the family’s tenancy or assistance, or both.” Upon reviewing the regulations, PIH now concludes that if a PHA uses its discretion not to terminate a household, the PHA can restructure the existing repayment agreement for an amount affordable for the household. PIH encourages such flexibility.

Section 4.2 Waivers (page 10)

OC12 explains that if a PHA adopts a waiver listed in Notice PIH 2020-13, REV-1, the PHA must publicly post or otherwise make available to the public a list of waivers and alternative requirements “by whatever means it considers most effective” as soon as practical. Examples include posting on the PHA’s website, the central office, and any satellite offices. This is a partial response to concerns raised by NHLP that legal services attorneys were having difficulty learning whether waivers were being used and details about waivers or alternative requirements.

OC13 (page 11) clarifies that if a PHA uses a waiver allowing it to extend the time period to update its utility allowance schedule to December 31, any reexamination effective on or after December 31 must use the updated schedule amounts. (PHAs must update their utility allowance schedule when there is a change of 10% or more.)

OC106 (page 39) is technically in Section 4.19 Privacy Act and Personally Identifiable Information (PII). However, it seems to reflect an aspect of legal services attorneys’ difficulty in obtaining meaningful information about a PHA’s waivers. The question posed in the FAQ is, if an external group requests information about waivers and alternative requirements implemented by a PHA, how must the PHA respond? Citing Notice PIH 2020-13, REV-1, PIH replies, “PHAs must post publicly or otherwise make available to the public a list of all waivers and alternative requirements the PHA chooses to apply in addition to notifying affected residents and owners of the impact of applicable waivers and alternative requirements. This posting could be on a website, the PHA’s social media page, or on a bulletin board in the PHA office.”

Section 5.2 Domestic Violence (page 48)

RH20 (page 51) reminds PHAs that when a domestic violence survivor requests an emergency transfer, lease bifurcation, or other Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) protections, PHAs are prohibited from requiring a survivor to provide third-party documentation of their survivor status, unless submitted documentation contains information that conflicts with existing information already available to a PHA or owner.

The sixth update of COVID-19 FAQs for Public Housing Agencies is at: https://bit.ly/2SGd1Ap

More information about public housing is on page 4-30 of NLIHC’s 2020 Advocates’ Guide.

More information about Housing Choice Vouchers is on page 4-1 of NLIHC’s 2020 Advocates’ Guide.