Program Review: Public Housing

This report, the latest in a series responding to the Act's mandate, updates and adds new information on the use of Recovery Act funds by public housing authorities.

What GAO Found

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) provided almost $4 billion to public housing authorities to fund capital and management activities. The funding was provided through grants distributed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Public Housing Authorities Met Spending Deadlines for Grants and the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Monitoring Incorporated Key Internal Controls

Almost all public housing authorities (PHA) met their spending deadlines for the Public Housing Capital Fund formula and competitive grant programs. As mandated, all but one PHA spent 100 percent of their formula grants by March 17, 2012. According to Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officials, PHAs with competitive grants were on track to meet their September 2012 spending deadlines. PHAs we interviewed cited various challenges to meeting the grant deadlines, such as the tight time frames and many attributed their ability to meet deadlines to good planning within their organizations and help from HUD. According to analyses of HUD data, about 3,100 PHAs planned to undertake improvements with their formula grants that affected about 495,000 housing units. Many used their grants to make improvements that enhanced energy efficiency, such as installing energy-efficient windows and appliances. GAO determined that HUD's monitoring strategy for these programs incorporated key internal controls, such as developing and implementing measures that allowed HUD staff to compare actual with planned results. At specific sites that GAO visited, PHAs were able to demonstrate work was under way or had been completed.

Recipients Met Deadlines for Section 1602 and Tax Credit Assistance Program Expenditures, but Treasury Does Not Plan to Fully Evaluate Asset Management Activities

All housing finance agencies (HFA) met their December 2011 disbursement deadlines for funds they received under Section 1602 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act). Most HFAs also met their February 2012 deadline to spend Tax Credit Assistance Program (TCAP) funds. Almost all HFAs reported that the funds helped restart stalled affordable housing projects that otherwise could not have moved forward. Project owners primarily used the funds to construct new housing units. HFAs identified several factors that helped them meet the deadlines, particularly their experience and established practices and procedures. As GAO reported in September 2010, TCAP and Section 1602 programs require HFAs to do more project oversight than they typically would to ensure that project owners comply with long-term program requirements. The Recovery Act requires that HFAs perform "asset management," which includes ensuring the long-term viability of projects. But some HFAs may not have the necessary experience, as third-party investors have often supported HFAs with this additional oversight. HUD has begun gathering data to help determine which projects may need additional oversight, but Treasury has not. Treasury staff would benefit from collecting information that would allow them to assess how HFAs are implementing their asset management policies and procedures.

HUD Continues to Monitor Quality of Data on Jobs Funded

The accuracy of full-time equivalent (FTE) data reported by recipients of the Public Housing Capital Fund competitive and formula programs and TCAP has improved over time. HUD staff have continued to monitor the data for errors—for example, for over counts of FTEs—and have worked with recipients to make corrections. The number of FTEs reported per quarter for HUD programs peaked in 2010 and 2011 and gradually declined each quarter as funded activities were completed. The Recovery Act does not require HFAs to report FTEs for Treasury's Section 1602 program.

GAO's RecommendationsBack to top

GAO recommends that Treasury assess the extent to which HFAs are utilizing information provided to them by project owners to ensure the long-term viability of buildings during the 15-year compliance period. Treasury disagreed with GAO’s draft recommendation that it assess HFA capacity to conduct asset management after projects are built. GAO modified its recommendation to specify that Treasury use available information for assessing how HFAs are ensuring long-term viability of buildings.