Housing Leased to Lower Income Persons:

Better Federal Guidance and Management Could Improve Quality

CED-80-7: Published: Oct 30, 1979. Publicly Released: Oct 30, 1979.

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Although the section 8 "existing housing" program managed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has provided decent, safe, and sanitary housing to many lower income people, a large number of homes leased under the program violate federal housing quality standards. Accompanied by HUD inspectors, GAO inspected 160 section 8 units (apartments, single-family homes, and mobile homes) administered by 16 public housing agencies under the jurisdiction of 5 HUD field offices in Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, and Massachusetts.

About 42 percent of the homes contained an average of three substandard conditions. These conditions included: dangerous walks and steps; inadequate heat and electrical wiring; dangerously deteriorated floors, walls, and ceilings; and inoperative or unlockable windows and exterior doors. Four weaknesses in the guidance provided by HUD to housing agencies contributed to the leasing of substandard housing: federal housing quality standards are not always clear and comprehensive; housing authority inspection and approval practices are inadequate; the need for housing, tenant location preferences, and production concerns are given higher priority than housing quality; and landlords and/or tenants inadequately maintain leased housing. Program managers at headquarters have not been assigned specific responsibilities or held accountable for ensuring the quality of the houses leased under the program.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should take the following actions to improve the guidance provided to Public Housing Authorities (PHA) on the quality of housing leased under the section 8 existing program: clarify and expand the section 8 housing quality standards; study the housing quality standards' requirement for mobile home tiedowns in relationship to the rationale for not requiring tiedowns in other HUD mobile home programs; provide guidance to PHAs on the experience and training needed to qualify an individual as a PHA housing inspector; develop for PHA inspectors an inspection checklist designed to highlight all section 8 housing quality standards; either issue instructions approving the practice of giving priority to other concerns over the quality of housing and specify the defects to be conditionally approved, or reemphasize to PHAs that substandard housing is never acceptable; encourage PHAs to counsel owners on their maintenance responsibilities; and develop a policy for PHAs to point out that program participants are also responsible for maintaining the condition of the houses. The Secretary of HUD should clearly define responsibility and accountability for the management of the program's housing quality, including employment of sufficient staff, and that such responsibility include: developing and implementing an evaluation system to assess and report periodically on the quality of leased housing programwide; implementing a housing quality monitoring system to identify causes of and take corrective action on weaknesses that have permitted approval of substandard housing; analyzing housing quality standards periodically for needed clarifications followed by appropriate revisions to the standards; and provide technical guidance and other information to PHAs on housing quality enforcement, trends, and nationwide problems.

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