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HUD PIH Posts Updated “COVID-19 FAQs for Public Housing Agencies”

HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) posted an updated “COVID-19 FAQs for Public Housing Agencies” on March 30. The updated set of “frequently asked questions” (FAQs) is based in part on issues raised by public housing agencies (PHAs) as well as provisions in the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.” For many of the FAQs, PIH indicates it will be providing detailed guidance in the near future. The first set of FAQs was posted on March 13 (see Memo, 3/23).

The March 30 update has 31 new questions, 5 questions flagged as “Updated” that appear to provide new information, and 12 questions flagged as “Updated” that provide minor updates. The new questions are not, however, indicated as being new. This Memo article summarizes key changes important to residents and advocates.

Under the category, “Operational Concerns,” question OC4 (page 6) addresses situations in which a PHA has halted or is considering halting, for health and safety reasons, Housing Quality Standards (HQS) inspections in homes assisted with vouchers. HUD outlines existing HQS inspection flexibilities in various PIH Notices for current residents and indicates it will provide guidance regarding housing chosen by new resident applicants as well.

Regarding portability of vouchers, at OC5 (page 7) PIH says PHAs should continue to process incoming and outgoing porting of vouchers in a manner similar to how they are handling all PHA operating issues at this time. Portability refers to procedures PHAs follow when a voucher household chooses to move with their voucher from one PHA to another. PHAs are encouraged to consider processing portability requests through electronic communications, teleconferences, and phone communications to the extent practicable. HUD is not currently considering a waiver of portability regulations or other PIH requirements.

OC6 states that the soon-to-be-released CARES Act stimulus payments to individuals and families will not be included when calculating a household’s income.

OC8 states that if public housing or voucher households, including households in project-based voucher (PBV) units, obey a stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus pandemic and consequently cannot pay the rent due to a loss of income, residents are protected by a new provision in the CARES Act that provides a 120-day moratorium on eviction filings, fees and penalties related to nonpayment of rent. (Presumably if someone is sick due to the coronavirus, the same moratorium would apply, but the FAQ does not specifically state this.) PIH indicates it will issue additional guidance.

OC18 (page 10) states that public housing residents who choose to self-isolate must continue to comply with the PHA’s Smoke-Free policy.

OC20 (page 11) states that HUD is not considering waivers of the “obsolescence test” if a PHA seeks approval to demolish a public housing property under Section 18 of the Housing Act. (To obtain approval to demolish public housing, a PHA must demonstrate the property is obsolete. See NLIHC’s summary of demolition regulations.)

OC25 (page 12) addresses a case involving a landlord telling a voucher household that their lease will not be renewed, resulting in the tenant being evicted. While the CARES Act has a 120-day moratorium on evictions and late fees due to nonpayment of rent that applies to the voucher program, the voucher program does not require landlords to renew a lease. Eviction after nonrenewal of a lease is a matter of state and local law. PIH indicates it will provide additional guidance.

OC28 addresses the question of whether a PHA can ban visitors to a high-rise property for seniors. HUD indicates that PHAs have the authority to restrict visitors from public housing properties. If a PHA plans to implement a visitor ban through amended PHA policies, PIH recommends it be done as part of a broader, publicly announced plan to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. PIH also suggests that PHAs and owners review the lease as well as state and local laws to determine the permissibility of banning visitors.

OC29 (page 13) addresses PHAs in areas subject to shelter-in-place orders. PIH indicates that PHAs can use alternate methods to collect information for new admissions and interim income reexaminations for reduced wages or hardship exemptions. Alternate methods would include email, mail, or phone. PHAs already have flexibilities for third-party verifications. For example, a resident may call to report they have been laid off from a restaurant job, in which case the PHA should attempt to verify this information with the employer. If the PHA cannot obtain this verification, the PHA can document its attempts and continue with the process to adjust the tenant payment.

Under the category “Resident Health,” question RH2 (page 13) notes that if there are positive COVID-19 cases in a building or property, PHAs should convey this information to staff and residents following state and local health department guidance as well as using the communications resources from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at: https://bit.ly/2X24zyU

The March 30 update of “COVID-19 FAQs for Public Housing Agencies” is at: https://bit.ly/2UzwAfF

More about public housing is on page 4-25 of NLIHC’s 2019 Advocates’ Guide

More about vouchers is on page 4-1 of NLIHC’s 2019 Advocates’ Guide