NLIHC, the Housing Assistance Council (HAC), and the National Housing Law Project (NHLP) sent a letter to USDA Rural Housing Service (RHS) Administrator Bruce Lammers to take immediate action to mandate and streamline interim income recertifications.
The letter notes that most tenants face a rental due date of April 1, 2020, and that Congress has just adopted a broad package of COVID-19 relief that includes eviction protections for all RHS-assisted tenants. The letter also acknowledges that a USDA/RD March 25 notice, regarding opportunities for immediate relief, provides helpful reminders to assisted owners. However, the notice appears to apply only to Section 515 developments and residents; it does not cover Section 514/516 farm labor housing residents. The March 25 notice should be modified to include 514/515, as should future policy guidance.
The letter also notes that RHS regulations require a tenant request to trigger an interim income recertification and it allows owners to follow their own processing procedures. Because many tenants may be unaware of the “tenant request” requirement, and because of obvious limitations on owner capacity to send a speedy reminder notice and to then process requests before April 1, RHS should issue emergency guidance waiving the tenant request requirement and establishing a clear emergency set of rent recertification policies.
The letter provides seven overall policy recommendations, with some including a number of subsidiary components, such as:
- If rent is not paid when due for April and other months during the emergency (and a reasonable period thereafter), owners should presume that the cause is a reduction in income (a “constructive request”) and begin the interim recertification process. Owners should be immediately required to send those tenants an RHS-prepared form notice in plain language that contains information about the tenant’s right to a prompt rent recertification that accounts for any income reduction, effective the first of the month following the income loss.
- RHS should suspend any regulatory or Handbook guidance that imposes additional impediments to making recertifications effective April 1, such as “reasonable time” periods for owner action, ordinary verification requirements, or any other provisions that permit denial or delay of prompt interim recertifications. In particular, RHS should temporarily eliminate the additional income verification requirements for tenants reporting zero income.
- For any other rental arrearages accumulated during the emergency, RHS should instruct owners to first ensure proper application of the emergency rent recertification policy, and to execute reasonable repayment plans that recognize the need to keep total monthly rent burdens affordable. This is particularly true for residents who did not receive Rental Assistance prior to the current emergency.
- RHS should clarify that any funds provided directly to tenants as part of federal stimulus efforts are not income for the purposes of calculating a tenant’s rent contribution.
The NHLP, NLIHC, HAC letter is at: https://bit.ly/2WJItRM
More information about RHS/RD housing programs are on page 4-59 of NLIHC’s 2019 Advocates’ Guide.