The Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined the public housing component of the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) at the request of Ranking Member of the House Committee on Financial Services Maxine Waters (D-CA). The report, Rental Assistance Demonstration: HUD Needs to Take Action to Improve Metrics and Ongoing Oversight, examines how RAD conversions are affecting residents, the extent to which RAD is designed to help preserve the long-term affordability of units, HUD’s assessment of the physical and financial outcomes of RAD conversions, and challenges public housing agencies (PHAs) face in implementing RAD.
Congress created RAD in FY12 as a demonstration to test whether PHAs could leverage Section 8 rental assistance contracts to raise private debt and equity to make public housing capital improvements and thereby preserve low income housing. RAD has two components. The first, the subject of the GAO study, initially allowed up to 60,000 public housing units to be converted from public housing capital and operating assistance to Section 8 project-based vouchers (PBVs) or to Section 8 project-based rental assistance (PBRA). Congress has increased the unit cap three times despite the absence of an evaluation of the impact of this “demonstration” on residents. The cap was recently raised to 455,000 units.
Resident leaders and advocates, including NLIHC, engaged significantly with HUD during the drafting of RAD provisions. Because residents and advocates were keenly aware of the many problems residents encountered under the HOPE VI program, they convinced HUD to include strong resident protections in RAD. Key resident protections in the RAD statute and implementing Notice include no displacement, the right to return, no-rescreening, only good-cause eviction, rent payments capped at 30% of a household’s income, long-term affordability, one-for-one replacement, continuation of public housing’s contributions of $25 per unit for resident participation, strong resident organizing provisions, maintenance of public housing’s grievance procedures, and avoidance of privatization.
The Impact of RAD on Residents
This Memo article focuses on the first topic of the GAO’s examination, the impact of RAD on residents so far. The GAO concluded:
“HUD has not yet developed monitoring procedures for certain resident safeguards under the RAD program. RAD requirements include those intended to ensure that residents whose units are converted through RAD:
- Are informed about the conversion process;
- Can continue to live in a converted property following RAD conversion;
- Are afforded certain protections carried over from the public housing program; and
- Are afforded a phase-in of any rent increases under Section 8 program requirements.”
It was not until October 2017 that HUD developed and started implementing procedures that require owners to provide data supporting compliance with the resident right-to-return requirements. Regarding relocation, according to the GAO, HUD is only now developing standard operating procedures to review each conversion for compliance with RAD relocation provisions. HUD is also only now developing guidance in other areas like protocols regarding resident notification and how residents’ comments are addressed through conversion planning. The National Housing Law Project (NHLP) has noted that HUD had not been consistently collecting required documentation on “house rules,” which describe the conditions and procedures for evicting residents and terminating assistance at RAD PBRA properties (see Memo, 10/23/17). As a result of NHLP’s advocacy, HUD is now implementing additional legal review procedures to ensure compliance with RAD’s resident eviction and grievance procedural rights requirements.
The GAO adds that HUD has not yet developed separate monitoring procedures for other resident safeguards like the phase-in of tenant rent increases, resident representation through tenant organizations, and choice mobility requirements.
Resident Focus Groups
The GAO conducted interviews with resident focus groups in the eight PHAs it visited. The GAO reports that residents in 7 of 14 focus groups indicated that the information they received about RAD conversion from their PHAs was not helpful, and residents in only 5 of 14 focus groups found the information useful. Residents indicated that the information provided was not always clear, and that the PHA and management were not always forthcoming with information about the changes that RAD would bring. This is consistent with feedback NLIHC received in the early years of RAD implementation, as well as with recent NHLP observations (see Memo, 10/23/17).
According to the GAO, residents in 5 of 14 focus groups indicated that they were not given the opportunity to provide input into proposed RAD changes, while residents in 6 of 14 groups indicated that their concerns were not addressed and their suggestions were not incorporated.
In addition, residents described relocation problems. For example, problems regarding the location of temporary units was expressed by 3 of 14 groups, and the timing of relocation or amount of notice given was identified by 7 of 14 focus groups.
Residents in 7 of 14 focus groups noted improved condition and appearance of individual units, and 6 of 14 groups reported improved condition and appearance of their development overall. Residents in other focus groups, however, identified problems like security concerns (10 of 14 focus groups); poor quality renovations (6 of 14 focus groups); decreased amenities, like the removal of common areas or in-unit washing machines (8 of 14 focus groups); and issues with property management (11 of 14 focus groups), such as new managers or owners not being responsive to resident needs or concerns.
HUD Has Not Systematically Tracked or Analyzed Household Data
The GAO reports that HUD does not track changes in key information about residents before and after conversion, like changes in rent, relocation, or displacement. HUD’s public housing, voucher, and PBRA databases are not designed to track the impact of RAD conversions on residents, and HUD is unable to electronically link household information submitted before a RAD conversion to information submitted after the conversion.
Starting in November 2016, owners of RAD-converted properties were required to maintain resident logs containing household information. The information to be entered into the logs includes race and ethnicity, household size, and whether a member of the household has a disability. Owners must also track resident status throughout the relocation process, including whether the resident has moved elsewhere temporarily, permanently relocated, or returned, or whether the resident was evicted. Only now is HUD developing procedures for limited review of compliance with the resident log requirement at 90 RAD projects.
The GAO concludes, “Without a comprehensive review of household information, one based on information in HUD data systems as well as resident logs, HUD cannot reasonably assess the effects of ongoing and completed RAD conversions on residents and compliance with resident safeguards.”
A Sizable Percentage of RAD Projects Do Not Involve Rehabilitation or New Construction
The GAO report indicates without apparent concern that 27% of all closed (completed) RAD conversions and 36% of all projects currently undergoing RAD conversion do not entail rehabilitation or new construction. HUD explains that such projects allow PHAs to be in a better position to access additional capital sometime in the future.
The RAD statute states that the purpose of the demonstration is to preserve and improve public housing. In addition, the first RAD implementation Notice and subsequent revisions have all stated that the main purpose of RAD is to address immediate and long-term capital needs through rehabilitation or new construction. The latest Notice indicates that HUD expects most projects undergoing conversion to do at least some rehabilitation or renovation.
The GAO concluded that “demonstrating the feasibility of RAD is contingent on collecting and assessing quality information about the converted projects.”
In addition, “HUD’s focus on the conversion process itself (and less on its results), as well as limitations in HUD’s data, have contributed to limited monitoring by HUD. Specifically, by not developing and implementing monitoring procedures to assess the effect of RAD on residents, HUD cannot ensure compliance with resident safeguards. Further, HUD collects and maintains household data for the public housing and Section 8 programs, yet it does not systematically use this information to ensure that resident safeguards are in place. Finally, HUD could benefit from additional procedures to assess RAD properties for risks to long-term preservation in order to be able to respond to property default or foreclosure.”
The GAO report is at: https://bit.ly/2E03rii
A media release from Ranking Member Maxine Waters is at: https://bit.ly/2pNL3E4
More about RAD is available on page 4-15 of NLIHC’s 2018 Advocates’ Guide at: https://bit.ly/2I8vK0m
NHLP has more information about RAD on its website.