HUD to Extend Mobility Demonstration Application Deadline to Feb. 1, 2021

Tomorrow, HUD will publish in the Federal Register a notice titled “Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers: Implementation of the Housing Choice Voucher Mobility Demonstration, Extension of Application Due Date.” The mobility demonstration will allow selected PHAs to offer mobility-related services to enable families with children to live in areas of opportunity. The deadline has been extended to February 1, 2021.

A pre-publication copy of the extension notice can be found here.

New HUD Guidance on Remote Hearings and Remote Briefings

The Department has published a notice titled “Guidance for PHAs on the Allowability of Remote Hearings and Remote Briefings” (PIH 2020-32). The notice provides additional guidance for conducting remote hearings (e.g., informal hearings for denial of admission, informal settlement of a grievance, etc.) and remote briefings (e.g., oral briefings for new Housing Choice Voucher [HCV] applicants, project-based voucher applicants, and tenant-protection voucher families). The notice outlines requirements for the technology platform used to conduct these activities remotely, discusses how to identify and resolve technology barriers prior to conducting remote hearings or briefings, discusses presenting documents prior to remote hearings and remote briefings, discusses specific public housing requirements, and specific HCV requirements.

Members of NAHRO will receive additional information on this notice.

The full notice can be found here.

New Guidance for Conducting Remote Video Inspections

On November 12, 2020, HUD published a notice titled “Remote Video Inspections for Housing Choice Voucher Program” (PIH Notice 2020-31). The notice gives PHAs guidance for doing Housing Quality Standards (HQS) inspections using Remote Video Inspections (RVIs), i.e., the process by which an inspector performs a HQS inspection at a remote site using a proxy (who follows the inspector’s instructions) and streaming technology.

Four Phases of an RVI

The guidance divides RVIs into four phases: administrative preparation; pre-inspection planning; performance of the inspection; and post inspection. In the administrative preparation phase, PHAs should check whether they need to update their administrative plan before incorporating new technology into their HQS inspections. The Department recommends describing who can participate in an RVI and the back-up process, if an RVI is unable to be completed. Additionally, PHAs should determine if the use of technology as part of the inspection process constitutes a significant amendment to the Annual Plan.

There are certain things PHA should do in the pre-inspection planning phase. First, the PHA should consider whether the proxy performing the RVI has the necessary equipment. If she does not, the PHA should consider how it will be provided. The Department recommends having the following items: a tape measure; a flashlight; a circuit analyzer, a way to test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors; a thermometer; and a smart phone or a tablet that meets certain streaming requirements. The RVIs should be scheduled like any other HQS inspection, but the PHA should also explain what RVIs are, why they’re being implemented, and provide a contact number and email address for tenants to raise questions or concerns. Finally, the inspector and the designated proxy should complete the free online course titled “Lead based Paint Visual Assessment Training Course” for properties built before 1978 where a child under six resides or will reside.

Certain steps should be taken, while performing the inspection. First, there should be adequate safeguards for the protection of personally identifiable information. The inspector may want to be in a PHA office or other remote location, while also using equipment that protects other private information. A proxy should be chosen for the inspection. The proxy may be the landlord, property representative, tenant, or any adult associated with the tenancy. Finally, once using a streaming platform to contact the proxy, the inspector should use the same inspection form the PHA currently uses to record deficiencies or if using a handheld device, use a consistent conversion process.

In the post-inspection time period, whether a unit passes or fails, the PHA should follow its administrative plan and procedures for that outcome.

Best Practices

The notice provides several best practices. First, the inspector should verify on the screen that the unit scheduled is being inspected by confirming the address and street name outside the unit. Second, the inspector should inspect the exterior of the unit and adjoining properties. Third, the inspector should inspect all interior spaces. Fourth, for a pre-1978 property, the inspector should follow all the national and state lead-based paint requirements. Fifth, the inspector should complete the process of generating a notification letter to the landlord or tenant to report inspection results. Finally, the appropriate individual should schedule a re-inspection or clearance test, if needed.

Proxy Certification

Prior to the RVI, the PHA and “impacted party with legal possession of the unit” (i.e., the tenant or the landlord) should agree to the use of the RVI. The PHA should notify the proxy in advance that the RVI will involve: determining no smell of natural gas, methane, or other noxious gas; completion of the “Lead based Paint Visual Assessment Training Course”; streaming the RVI without recording it; following the directions of the instructor; and other things deemed necessary by the PHA.

Finally, PHAs are encouraged to perform additional quality control inspections under the RVI process.

The full notice can be read here.

HUD Extends Deadline to Apply for CARES Act HAP Funding

In an email sent earlier today, HUD extended the deadline to apply for receiving CARES Act HAP Funding for the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program for significant increases in per unit cost (PUC) due to extraordinary circumstances. The deadline has been extended to March 31, 2021 or until all funds have been depleted (currently, $50 million remain).

Instructions on how to apply for this funding can be found in PIH 2020-17 (amended to include the new deadline) or NAHRO’s previous blog post.

Additional 2020 Capital Funds Distributed

HUD’s Office of Capital Improvements (OCI) has revised almost all FY 2020 Capital Fund Program (CFP) Formula Grants to distribute an additional $16,846,352 in capital funds. The funding is subject to the original FY 2020 Capital Fund Formula Grant obligation start date of 3/26/2020 with an obligation end date of 3/25/23 and an expenditure end date of 3/25/25. HUD’s list of new Capital Fund Awards can be found here.

HUD Creates New Energy Savings Program for Small, Rural PHAs

On October 23, HUD published a notice titled “Implementation of Section 209(b) of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (Economic Growth Act)” (PIH 2020-30). This notice implements an energy savings program for small, rural PHAs that was created by the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (Economic Growth Act). The National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials submitted comments on implementing section 209(b). Our comments stated that this program should be distinct from Energy Performance Contracting, that the program should be easy to apply to and to administer, and that PHAs should have flexibility in how they use the savings. We are pleased that HUD closely followed many of NAHRO’s suggestions. The program—called the Small Rural Frozen Rolling Base (SR-FRB)–would allow eligible PHAs to freeze the cost of their energy consumption levels, improve their energy efficiency, and use any cost savings for any eligible public housing purpose at the PHA’s discretion. This program differs from Energy Performance Contracting (EPC) in that it is much easier to apply to and administer.

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Operating Fund Web Portal Access for Executive Directors

Earlier today, HUD’s Financial Management Division (FMD) emailed PHAs to remind them that they need to ensure PHA Executive Directors possess the OPD – PHA Executive Director user role in the Operating Fund Web Portal. The director must have this role to certify and submit PHA forms SF-424, HUD-50071, and, if required, SF-LLL to HUD. WASS coordinators assign user roles, and only the Executive Director should be assigned OPD – PHA Executive Director. WASS coordinators should refer to the following user guide for instructions on how to assign the role. PHA Executive Directors and staff can review their assigned user roles by logging into the Operating Fund Web Portal and clicking the “roles assigned” button.

HCV Optimization Notice Published

On October 16, HUD published a notice titled “Guidance for Running an Optimized Housing Choice Voucher Program” (PIH 2020-29). The notice warns of increasing reserves nationally and notes that an optimized Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program maximizes the number of families served, while minimizing rent burden. The notice discusses several program tools such as the Two-Year Forecasting Tool, the Payment Standard Tool, the HCV Analysis Tool and PIC Drill-Down, and the HCV Guidebook. The notice also discusses the voucher program planning timeline and best practices to increase success rates.

The full notice can be found here.

You Sent Nearly 13,000 Letters to Congress in August. So What?

In August, NAHRO hit a major advocacy milestone by sending nearly 13,000 letters to Congress and the White House urging support for affordable housing and community development programs. So what? What impact does sending a bunch of pre-written letters actually have?

Sending letters can be frustrating. Sometimes when you send a letter, you do not hear back. If you do hear back, often you receive a canned response that does not directly address the points you raised in your letter. Don’t be dismayed- your letter actually has an impact in Congressional offices, even if you don’t see it.

What Happens to Your Letter?

Once you hit “send” in NAHRO’s Advocacy Action Center or on the Advocacy Center App, your letter is emailed straight to your lawmaker. Each Congressional office is different, but typically an intern or a lower-level staffer will read each and every correspondence they receive, whether it be a hand-written note that is mailed through USPS, an email sent to the office, or a comment submitted to their web site. That staffer will make note of the topic of your letter and file it away. Offices receive a significant number of letters each day, so this process can take time, especially now.

Tip: During COVID-19, many offices have not been hiring interns, which means your letters have been read by permanent office staff. Though these staffers are likely lower level, these staff frequently are promoted within the office to take on more responsibility and legislative work. That means your letters during the pandemic could have an even larger impact on offices.

Why Did I Receive That Response?

The staffer who reviews your letter will also select a response to send back to you. These response messages are pre-drafted and approved by your lawmaker. Since offices receive so many letters, offices can’t address every single topic they are contacted about, which is why sometimes the email you receive back doesn’t quite match what you wrote to them about. Don’t get frustrated by this – get motivated!

Tip: Unless you took the time to edit the letter in NAHRO’s Advocacy Action Center (which you can do, and which we encourage!), you also sent your lawmaker a pre-drafted, non-personalized letter. So, receiving a non-personal response is fair.

Why Did We Ask You to Send So Many Letters?

The reason why we focus so much on letter goals during our advocacy campaigns is because within Congressional offices, volume matters. The more people who contact a Senate or House office about things like Section 8 Administrative Fees, the more likely the office is to actually think about what that funding does and form policy positions around the topic.

Your letter was one of 13,000 and helped to elevate affordable housing and community development within offices. Every single letter matters, even if you don’t always see how. Your letter may have pushed Congressional offices to:

  • Have a conversation with the boss: Step one to getting an office to prioritize affordable housing is to get them thinking and talking about it. If you and your colleagues sent enough letters on voucher access or the Public Housing Capital Fund, the staff will alert the member of Congress that their constituents (the people who they represent in their states or Congressional districts) are talking about this issue. If the office doesn’t know enough about the topic, this can push staffers to do more research and be prepared to brief their boss. Your letters help create awareness and understanding of affordable housing policy in offices.
  • Draft a specific response letter: NAHRO’s more seasoned advocates have noticed a trend in the past couple years: the pre-drafted responses to their letters they are receiving are beginning to actually address specific HUD programs rather than housing or federal funding in general. Many offices have a specific number of letters they need to receive on any given topic to draft a response to it. In the past, letters on things like Section 8 vouchers or public housing would elicit responses like “I too care about homeownership.” Not quite right. Now, we’re seeing some responses that actually articulate support for things like increasing funding for the Capital Fund. Your letters are working.

Tip: Because of the volume of letters sent in August, while you may have received a slightly off topic response over the summer, since then offices may have changed their housing responses. Try contacting your Congressional offices again to see if you sent enough letters to change their response!

  • Consider Being More Active in Housing: If members of Congress think that their constituents care deeply about certain topics, that impacts the decisions they make as individual members of Congress. This can result in a lawmaker doing things like giving speeches about housing, choosing to publicly support housing legislation, drafting housing legislation, or even joining a Congressional committee that makes decisions about housing policy. The more their constituents care, the more likely the member of Congress is to prioritize housing when making these decisions. Your letters help communicate that affordable housing matters in your community. This is how we build future champions for affordable housing in Congress.

Want to Do More?

If you’re ready to take the next step in advocacy, consider calling your lawmakers’ Washington, DC offices to follow-up on your letter. You can find their office number on their web site or you can be connected directly through the Capitol switch board: 202-224-3121. When you call, ask to speak with their housing staff. Introduce yourself and your agency, ask if they’ve seen a copy of your letter (they may not have), and briefly discuss how the highlights of the letter relate back to your agency and your work. If you need more help honing your messaging before calling offices, contact NAHRO’s Director of Congressional Relations Tess Hembree (thembree@nahro.org).

Our Letters Work

Your letters create higher funding levels and meaningful policy changes for HUD programs. Since FY 2018, HUD funding has been increased every single fiscal year, even during extremely difficult fiscal climates. You’ve affected the first legislation that specifically addresses the challenges of small public housing authorities. Your letters even helped end the longest government shutdown in history.

So next time you send a letter but don’t see an immediate impact, remember that every single letter raises awareness of affordable housing and community development in Washington, DC. Thank you for doing your part.

HUD Publishes HOTMA PBV Rule

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a rule titled “Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act of 2016—Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) and Project-Based Voucher Implementation; Additional Streamlining Changes.” This rule does four things. First, it changes regulatory code to implement Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act of 2016 (HOTMA) provisions that were previously implemented via notice. Second, it proposes to implement additional provisions of HOTMA that have not yet been implemented. Third, it proposes several regulatory changes unrelated to HOTMA. Fourth, the rule proposes removing “obsolete regulatory provisions.” Comments for these proposed changes are due December 7, 2020.

There are several new HOTMA-related topics and non-HOTMA-related topics that this proposed rule is seeking to implement. Among the new HOTMA-related topics that this rule will implement include enforcement of housing quality standards, manufactured home space rental, entering into a project-based voucher (PBV) housing assistance payment (HAP) contract without an agreement to enter a HAP (AHAP) contract, providing rent adjustments using an operating cost adjustment fact (OCAF), owner-maintained site-based waiting lists, and environmental requirements for existing housing. Among the non-HOTMA-related topics touched by this rule are changes that HUD characterizes as clarifying and simplifying the program rules.

Staff at NAHRO are still in the process of reading through the proposed rule. Additional information will be forthcoming.

The rule can be found here.