NHLP Summarizes and Provides Recommendations for Public Housing and Voucher Waivers

The National Housing Law Project (NHLP) has prepared a comprehensive summary of Notice PIH 2020-05 that provided waivers to certain statutory and regulatory requirements for public housing and the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program. For each waiver provision, NHLP offers recommendations that urge advocates to promote implementation of some waivers by their public housing agency (PHA) and to oppose others, explaining why some waivers could be harmful to residents.

NHLP makes four key recommendations:

  1. Interim Income Recertifications: A waiver allows a PHA to implement its own interim income recertification rules to protect tenants in the event of loss of income, but HUD does not require PHAs to adopt these common-sense policies. Advocates should work with their PHAs to adopt an interim recertification rule that: (a) states if rent is not paid for April and other months during the emergency and for a reasonable period after, the PHA and owners should presume that the cause is a reduction in income, then begin the recertification process; (b) allows tenants to self-certify changes in income using a variety of methods; and (c) requires the PHA to apply any decrease in rent due to loss of income to the month following the change in income, retroactively if necessary. Advocates should also work with their PHAs to suspend minimum rents, which can be achieved without a waiver.
  2. Property conditions: After a tenant reports unsafe conditions in a voucher-assisted home, a waiver allows a PHA to adopt a policy that allows landlords to self-certify via email or text that a life-threatening condition does not exist. An inspection by the PHA or a third party is not required. For public housing, PHA inspections for physical conditions are postponed, except where there is a threat to life or property. HUD will therefor rely on residents’ complaints and other sources to identify threats to health and safety, without identifying a specific process for resolving them. It is unclear how PHAs with limited operational capacity will be able to respond to such complaints. Advocates should note that the Multifamily FAQs provide that, where there is “an exigent circumstance or reason to believe that there is a threat to life or property,” inspections will be conducted by HUD inspectors. Advocates can request that their PHAs utilize a similar process where there is a threat to health and safety.
  3. Adding household members: A waiver makes it easier for families to add household members. For example, a PHA can adopt policies that disregard subsidy standards. For public housing, the waiver grants PHAs explicit authority to waive tenant-selection criteria, although a similar waiver is not listed for the voucher program. Advocates should work with their PHAs to lift discretionary screening requirements (e.g., most criminal history and credit history) to support the health needs of family members and family reunification for people exiting jails and prisons.
  4. Tenant notice requirements: A waiver allows a PHA to change its policies and practices without prior notice to tenants. Notice to impacted tenants is required only “as soon as practicable” after the policy is revised. Advocates should work closely with their PHAs to learn what policy changes will take place, how they will impact residents, and how residents will be informed, so residents can help get the word out. Where Resident Advisory Boards exist, advocates should request that PHAs at minimum require timely (preferably advanced) notice of policy changes to the RAB.

NHLP urges advocates to ensure their PHAs do not adopt three specific waivers: HQS-6, HCV-8, and PH-9.

HQS-6: PHAs are normally required to conduct an onsite inspection within 24 hours if a tenant reports a life-threatening condition in their home, or within 15 days for non-life-threatening conditions. Waiver HQS-6 regarding interim inspections of voucher-assisted homes allows an owner to fix the life-threatening condition or self-certify that one does not exist within 24 hours. It allows an owner to fix a non-life-threatening condition and to self-certify that it is fixed (or does not exist) within 30 days of the PHA notification. Self-certification may be done by email or text. NHLP recommends that advocates convince their PHAs to not adopt this policy for life-threatening conditions because it puts the health and safety of residents at risk. Advocates should urge their PHAs to maintain a process whereby inspectors visit a property in the case of a life-threatening condition. When a PHA adopts this policy, it should provide an explicit opportunity for voucher families to contest a landlord’s self-certification that a life-threatening condition does not exist. In this case, PHA staff should be required to investigate the condition of the unit.

HCV-8 and PH-9: These two waivers concern the review and revision of utility allowances in the voucher program and public housing program. The waivers allow a PHA to delay a review and revision of its utility allowance schedule. The rule allowed to be waived requires a PHA to review its utility allowance schedule annually and revise the schedule if there was a change of 10% or more in the utility rate. The waivers state that any outstanding review and revision obligations for calendar year 2020 must be completed by December 31, 2020. NHLP recommends that advocates convince their PHAs not to adopt this waiver because any increases in utility allowances that would have resulted in lower tenant contributions or higher utility reimbursements should be provided to tenants retroactively as of the date the regularly scheduled updated allowance would have gone into effect. The rationale for this request is that residents are likely to have higher utility usage due to stay-at-home orders during the pandemic.

NHLP’s summary is at: https://bit.ly/2x6uU4u  

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.