Public Housing:

HUD Should Improve the Usefulness and Accuracy of Its Management Assessment Program

RCED-97-27: Published: Jan 29, 1997. Publicly Released: Jan 29, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) use of its Public Housing Management Assessment Program (PHMAP), focusing on: (1) HUD's use and implementation of the program at its field offices; (2) public housing authorities' PHMAP scores over the first 4 years of the program; and (3) limits on any additional uses for the program.

GAO found that: (1) most of HUD's field offices are using PHMAP to identify troubled housing authorities and target HUD's limited technical assistance resources; (2) however, the field offices have not been systematically using the assessment program, as required by statutes and regulations, to monitor housing authorities' progress in improving their performance and target technical assistance to them; (3) the impact of a 1995 reorganization of the field offices' functions and current departmental downsizing continue to influence some offices' ability to provide technical assistance; (4) performance scores generally have increased during the first 4 full years of the program; (5) with average scores increasing, the total number of troubled housing authorities has decreased, and the greatest proportion of those that are troubled are the smallest authorities, those managing fewer than 100 units; (6) the proportion of high-performing authorities has increased steadily from about 33 percent in 1992 to over 50 percent in 1995; (7) high-performing authorities manage nearly 50 percent of all public housing units; (8) periodically, HUD officials provide the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Congress information on the performance of all housing authorities as well as the number of troubled authorities; (9) HUD's confirmatory reviews of the information underlying assessment scores have shown the scores to be inaccurate in half the instances when such reviews were performed; (10) regardless of the scores' accuracy, HUD and public housing industry officials do not believe that the management assessment program comprehensively assesses how well local housing authorities manage their properties; and (11) this is because the assessment program does not include indicators to specifically measure overall housing quality or the quality of maintenance.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HUD recently required all of its field office Directors of Public Housing to attend training intended to update them on revisions to the Public Housing Management Assessment Program and emphasize the importance and usefulness of additional tools such as the independent audit. The training specifically included a session dedicated to reviewing the audit report and using it to identify issues requiring additional HUD attention.

    Recommendation: To make better use of the limited resources it has to devote to the oversight of public housing, HUD should provide guidance to its field offices that clearly emphasizes the importance of using the results of the independent audits to better target HUD's limited technical assistance resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HUD recently required all of its field office Directors of Public Housing to attend training intended to update them on revisions to the Public Housing Management Assessment Program and emphasize HUD's expectation that they must perform mandatory oversight activities such as confirmatory reviews and executing improvement plans or memoranda of agreement. This training also addressed HUD's expectation that field offices review and make use of housing authorities' annual independent audits (for which HUD pays).

    Recommendation: To make better use of the limited resources it has to devote to the oversight of public housing, HUD should provide guidance to its field offices that clearly articulates their minimally acceptable roles regarding oversight and assistance to housing authorities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: HUD now requires each field office to conduct, at a minimum, three on-site confirmatory reviews per year. If a HUD field office has no troubled authorities under its jurisdiction, or has fewer than three troubled authorities, it still must complete three such reviews by confirming the scores of standard- or high-performing housing authorities. If field office resources are sufficient, HUD expects each field office to increase the minimum number of confirmatory reviews it performs to five. However, with HUD's new requirement in place only since April 1, 1997, it is not yet clear that the minimum number of reviews it has set for its field offices to conduct is sufficient to identify all housing authorities with scores low enough to be at risk of being designated troubled. Furthermore, because HUD is committed to continued downsizing of the department, it is doubtful its field offices will have the resources to conduct more than the minimum HUD has set.

    Recommendation: Until it establishes a cost-effective means to ensure consistently accurate scores, HUD should require its field offices to confirm the PHMAP scores of housing authorities with scores low enough that they are at risk of being designated troubled.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Neither HUD's fiscal year 1998 budget nor its fiscal year 1999 budget request include bonus awards of operating subsidy funds for high-performing housing agencies. Furthermore, as part of its HUD 2020 Management Reform Plan, HUD is establishing a national assessment center that will maximize its evaluations of housing agencies based on independent information, relying less on information provided by the housing agencies. According to the Secretary of HUD, once the assessment center is operational (late 1998), the accuracy of a housing agency's management performance and the quality of its housing stock will be verified by contractors for audit compliance issues, independent physical inspections of units, and customer service surveys. Under HUD's 2020 Management Reform plan, just 20 percent of an agency's assessment will depend on data it certifies and HUD state/area office input.

    Recommendation: Until it establishes a cost-effective means to ensure consistently accurate scores, HUD should not consider additional uses for PHMAP, including using its scores as criteria for funding bonuses, until it determines that PHMAP meets an acceptable level of accuracy and more comprehensively measures property management performance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

 

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