Public Housing:

New Assessment System Holds Potential for Evaluating Performance

GAO-02-282: Published: Mar 15, 2002. Publicly Released: Mar 15, 2002.

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Stanley J. Czerwinski
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The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) spends $7 billion annually to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing for low-income households in about 14,000 rental properties nationwide. Yet, many public housing properties have been unsafe and unsanitary for several decades. To identify and correct these problems, HUD began a Public Housing Assessment System (PHAS) to evaluate the performance of public housing authorities. Although HUD is still testing and revising PHAS, it has begun to designate certain housing authorities as troubled and to assign them to recovery centers, where they receive technical and other assistance. HUD also created the Public and Indian Housing Information Center (PIC) database to collect information on funding, compliance, and other problems that fall outside the scope of PHAS. PHAS includes four performance indicators: (1) the physical condition of the properties, (2) the financial condition of the housing authority, (3) the authority's management operations, and (4) residents' satisfaction with their living conditions. HUD develops a score for each indicator and, starting in this fiscal year, plans to use the scores for all four indicators to determine whether housing authorities are troubled. So far, HUD has used only the management operations score to designate housing authorities as troubled. The PIC risk assessment uses the total PHAS score and information about funding and compliance issues to classify troubled and nontroubled housing authorities as high, moderate, or low risk. According to HUD, the field offices focus their monitoring resources on the nontroubled high-risk authorities in an effort to correct their problems before the authorities are designated as troubled. GAO found inconsistencies between the PHAS and PIC assessment. The five public housing authorities GAO visited, which had not been designated as troubled under PHAS but had been classified as moderate to high risk under PIC, had various problems. However, even under the same authority, some developments were well or adequately maintained, while others had cosmetic, structural, or health and safety problems. HUD may provide technical assistance at a housing authority through either a field office team or a troubled agency recovery center. HUD may also impose sanctions on a housing authority or intervene in its operations to compel the authority to correct problems. For more serious, long-standing problems, HUD may put a housing authority into receivership. In some instances, HUD may enter into special agreements with housing authorities, giving them the flexibility to address unique problems. Although these options have the potential for solving problems at public housing authorities, it is still to early to evaluate their effectiveness. Moreover, in the past, the options have not always fully addressed the problems or the housing authorities have not sustained the improvements. Refer to the accompanying video, Public Housing Today (GAO-02-1040SP).

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's work, HUD has incorporated GAO's recommendation into the PIC risk assessment submodule database. According to HUD, the database enhancement has been released and training for the field staff on the modifications to the risk assessment submodule has been scheduled.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that troubled public housing authorities receive sufficient monitoring, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should revise the Public and Indian Housing Information Center risk assessment to automatically classify all troubled housing authorities as high risk so that they receive the correct level of HUD monitoring.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development


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