NLIHC, the National Housing Law Project (NHLP), and the National Alliance of HUD Tenants (NAHT) sent a letter on May 6 to Brian Montgomery, HUD assistant secretary for housing and federal housing commissioner, and Hunter Kurtz, HUD assistant secretary for Public and Indian Housing (PIH). The letter follows up on a letter the three organizations sent on March 26 (see Memo, 3/30) regarding HUD’s policies on interim income recertifications during the coronavirus crisis. While some earlier recommendations were incorporated in guidance, the new letter asserts that a number of key policies must still be addressed to protect resident health and safety. HUD's decision not to issue guidance regarding interim income recertification puts some tenants at risk of paying rents incommensurate with their ability to pay, which could lead to eviction or subsidy termination. The organizations urge HUD to act swiftly on six recommendations:
- Public housing agencies (PHAs) and private owners of properties receiving project-based rental assistance from HUD’s Office of Multifamily Programs (Multifamily) should assume a nonpayment of rent is due to the coronavirus pandemic and begin interim income recertification even if a resident has yet to request one. PHAs and owners must also increase efforts to inform families of their right to request an interim recertification and make all interim recertifications effective the first of the month following reduction in income.
If HUD is not willing to assume that nonpayment of rent automatically triggers an interim recertification during the pandemic, HUD must ensure that tenants are informed of their right to seek an interim income recertification. A HUD-prepared notice should be distributed to assisted families, posted prominently at assisted properties, and included in mailings to assisted families. The notice should be sent to resident advisory board (RAB) members, resident council officers, and tenant organizations.
When a request for interim recertification is received, PHAs and owners should immediately begin the process. As in Multifamily programs, PIH should establish a uniform effective date for interim income recertification as the first of the month following the event triggering a decrease in income.
- HUD should amend the procedures for families to self-certify a decrease in income. In PIH’s recent Notice PIH-2020-05 (see Memo, 4/13), PHAs have the option to allow residents to self-certify. The Multifamily program should extend this waiver to owners of private, HUD-assisted properties. Further, HUD should require PHAs and owners to accept a family’s self-certification via mail, email, or other electronic delivery.
- Multifamily should amend its guidance for annual recertifications. PIH’s Notice PIH-2020-05 allows PHAs to delay annual recertifications until December 31, 2020. Multifamily should extend this waiver to owners of HUD-assisted properties. Delaying annual recertifications will allow owners to prioritize interim recertifications.
If Multifamily will not allow owners to delay recertification, or in instances that a PHA elects not to use this waiver, HUD should direct owners and PHAs to allow families to complete recertification without penalty after the ordinary deadline. During the pandemic, HUD should direct owners and PHAs to presume an extenuating circumstance exists when a family does not provide the requested information on time.
- HUD should set minimum rents for the project‐based Section 8 program to zero and direct PHAs to set minimum rents to zero. If HUD decides not to accept this recommendation, HUD should direct PHAs and owners to inform immediately families to apply for a hardship exemption due to loss or interruption of income, and to assume that coronavirus‐related hardships are long‐term. If minimum rent is not paid when due during the pandemic, PHAs and owners should presume a family has a hardship and begin processing a hardship exemption.
- HUD should extend the prohibition of nonpayment fees and "convenience" fees for the duration of the pandemic. If families have accumulated past-due rent or other debts not relieved by interim recertifications, owners and PHAs should work with residents to establish reasonable repayment plans. HUD should establish minimum standards for such repayment agreements, consistent with existing HUD guidance that total rent burdens be limited to 40% of adjusted income. In addition, HUD should require owners and PHAs to give households a reasonable grace period after the pandemic to meet past‐due programmatic requirements.
- HUD should require property owners and PHAs to post and distribute HUD-prepared tenant information. HUD-prepared tenant information such as “know-your-rights” brochures should be printed in bulk by HUD and distributed to families, posted prominently at properties, and included in mailings to families. HUD should also send a letter to owners and PHAs directing them to obtain and distribute the brochures at their developments. HUD-prepared tenant resources should also be sent to resident advisory board (RAB) members, resident council officers, and other tenant organizations. All HUD-prepared tenant information should be translated into appropriate languages and be accessible via printed copies and on HUD’s COVID-19 webpages.
The letter is at: https://bit.ly/2YJVX0J
More information about public housing is on page 4-30 of NLIHC’s 2020 Advocates’ Guide.
More information about the Housing Choice Voucher program is on page 4-1 of NLIHC’s 2020 Advocates’ Guide.
More information about the Project-Based Rental Assistance program is on page 4-61 of NLIHC’s 2020 Advocates’ Guide.