New HUD ruling is positive

Owners of some federally subsidized housing across the United States are undoubtedly deeply upset about a new rule put in place by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Even the executive director of the Altoona Housing Authority considers the rule “extreme,” although the local public housing agency, because of good management, is free of most of the big, nagging problems with which many similar agencies across the country routinely deal.

The new rule, which shortens the notice regarding upcoming HUD inspections of properties receiving subsidies, applies to private subsidized housing as well.

HUD’s new thinking is not, in fact, an unfair imposition. In Pennsylvania and nationally, the potential benefits of the new rule outweigh the challenges that it will pose for those subsidized-housing owners who do not operate with the high standards that the local agency strives to maintain on a consistent basis.

Because of the local agency’s commitment to excellence, day in and day out, it is to be presumed that the authority won’t be hard-pressed in getting good “grades” under the new federal provision.

Even if there is an occasional glitch, tenants stand to benefit in the end. That’s important, because the well-being of tenants is the basic foundation upon which public housing is intended to operate.

The new rule announced by HUD Secretary Ben Carson stipulates that, going forward, subsidized-housing owners will get only 14 days of lead time before HUD’s Real Estate Assessment Center inspections, which take place every one, two or three years, depending on scores of prior inspections.

Up to Sunday, when the new rule took effect, owners had received up to 120 days of notice.

Obviously, the longer lead time provided owners with more time to correct deficiencies, thus improving their chances of receiving a high inspection score. The new rule is an incentive to correct problems more quickly and to discourage allowing problems to multiply.

Carson was correct in his observation that the long-notice period provided the opportunity for many housing owners to make “quick fixes, essentially gaming the system.”

Even with notice of only 14 days, subsidized-housing owners will not face the same degree of pressure under which Pennsylvania restaurants and others that deal with food service have to operate because of the unannounced inspections to which they are subject.

All tenants deserve to have problems in their residences addressed quickly, rather than having to cope with problems for an inordinate length of time.

As an article in Sunday’s Mirror reported, Jim Stephens, director of maintenance operations and modernization for the Altoona authority, suggested the possibility of an ulterior HUD motive for implementing the change.

He said HUD would save money because shorter notices will make it more difficult for authorities to earn bonus capital funding by becoming “high performers” like Altoona.

Hopefully the HUD notice-time change really is based on what Carson indicated, rather than preventing additional federal subsidy outlays.

Such an attitude could be deemed irresponsible.

Consistently, the Altoona Housing Authority performs commendably regarding maintenance of its units. Other authorities and private owners should work as hard.

This new HUD idea is good and overdue.

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