Elderly Housing:

HUD Should Do More to Oversee Efforts to Link Residents to Services

GAO-16-758: Published: Sep 1, 2016. Publicly Released: Oct 3, 2016.

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What GAO Found

While limitations in the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) data make an accurate assessment difficult, GAO estimates that roughly half of the 7,229 Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly (Section 202) properties have HUD-funded service coordinators—staff who link residents to supportive services such as transportation assistance or meals. HUD's data indicate that 38 percent of Section 202 properties have a HUD-funded service coordinator, but these data likely underestimate the true number. GAO surveyed a generalizable sample of Section 202 properties not identifiable in HUD's data as having a service coordinator and, on this basis, estimates that an additional 12 percent of Section 202 properties actually had one—bringing the actual total of Section 202 properties with service coordinators to about 50 percent. Federal internal control standards note that it is important for management to obtain relevant data from reliable sources. Properties with service coordinators are subject to additional monitoring, but without accurate information, HUD risks not taking steps to monitor Section 202 properties with service coordinators to help ensure they are connecting residents to supportive services.

Properties without service coordinators connect residents to services in a variety of ways—for example, property managers may serve this function themselves, or they may utilize other local organizations. Several stakeholders told GAO that property managers are well-positioned to know their residents, and have some insight into their needs. Others noted that property managers generally lack the time and expertise to effectively manage this responsibility, and that the manager's role can conflict with that of the service coordinator. Through GAO's survey and site visits, managers of Section 202 properties without service coordinators cited a variety of reasons for not employing them, including lack of funding and having too few units to justify hiring someone to focus on supportive services for the elderly residents.

HUD requires its staff to monitor Section 202 properties' adherence to program requirements. However, HUD lacks written policies and procedures that describe how its staff should monitor the requirement for Section 202 property managers to coordinate the provision of supportive services. Available guidance describes general monitoring procedures for multifamily properties but does not address Section 202 specifically. HUD officials told GAO they plan to develop guidance on monitoring Section 202 properties with service coordinator grants by December 2016. Federal internal control standards note the importance of documenting responsibilities through policies. Without written policies and procedures, HUD cannot be assured that elderly residents are receiving assistance obtaining services. In addition, HUD collects performance data, such as the number of services provided, from Section 202 properties that have service coordinators but does not have policies or procedures in place to verify the accuracy of the data or for analyzing the data collected. Federal internal control standards also note the importance of evaluating data for reliability and processing data into quality information to evaluate performance. Until HUD takes steps to assess service coordinator performance data for reliability and analyze the data reported, its ability to use that information to monitor whether service coordinators are performing effectively and helping to fulfill the goals of the Section 202 program will likely be limited.

Why GAO Did This Study

The U.S. population of persons age 65 and older is expected to grow to 73 million by 2030. With age, people are increasingly likely to face physical and cognitive limitations. HUD's Section 202 program funds supportive rental housing for very low-income elderly households. Section 202 property owners are expected to coordinate the provision of services to help residents live independently and age in place.

GAO was asked to review how Section 202 properties connect residents to services and HUD's related monitoring efforts. This report examines (1) the extent to which Section 202 properties have service coordinators, (2) how properties without coordinators connect residents with services and why they may not use coordinators and (3) HUD's monitoring of Section 202 properties' efforts to connect residents with supportive services, among other objectives. GAO analyzed HUD's fiscal year 2014 data (the latest available) on Section 202 properties and service coordinators; surveyed a generalizable sample of Section 202 properties not identifiable in HUD data as having service coordinators; reviewed monitoring policies, program descriptions, and agency notices; and interviewed HUD officials from each of HUD's five Multifamily Housing regions and stakeholders.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that HUD (1) improve the accuracy of its data on Section 202 properties with service coordinators, (2) develop written guidance on assessing compliance with supportive services requirements, and (3) develop procedures for verifying and analyzing performance data. HUD concurred with GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact Daniel Garcia-Diaz at (202) 512-8678 or garciadiazd@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2020, HUD staff told us they had updated an information management system (iREMS), so that it could capture data on whether Section 202 properties had service coordinators, and how the position was funded. HUD provided evidence of the system changes, which appropriate staff will continually update over time. HUD's website includes specific information about the changes, along with guidance for staff. The new features in iREMS enable the data to easily be aggregated, analyzed, and checked, which helps ensure the reliability of this information.

    Recommendation: To better inform Congress and improve what is known about the extent to which elderly residents of Section 202 properties are assisted by service coordinators, the Assistant Secretary for Housing should implement HUD's guidance on processes to improve the accuracy of information on Section 202 properties with budget-based service coordinators, and take steps to evaluate whether the guidance has improved the reliability of this information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In February 2018, HUD noted that it is in the process of finalizing written guidance which will document the agency's expectations regarding the supportive services requirement for Section 202 properties. HUD plans to finalize the guidance and post it on its website by May 2018. In July 2019, HUD noted that it posted guidance related to service coordinators on its website in 2018. The guidance describes the roles and responsibilities of service coordinators as well is reporting policies related to budget-based service coordinators. As of October 2019, HUD noted that it is drafting guidance that includes information on identifying and monitoring stand-alone Section 202 properties. This recommendation will remain open until HUD can demonstrate providing guidance to HUD staff on (1) identifying stand-alone Section 202 properties, and (2) monitoring the supportive services requirement for various types of Section 202 properties, including properties without service coordinators and stand-alone Section 202 properties. In December 2019, we requested further information from HUD and will continue to follow up on the agency's progress toward implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To better inform Congress and improve what is known about the extent to which elderly residents of Section 202 properties are assisted by service coordinators, the Assistant Secretary for Housing should develop and implement written guidance that describes how HUD staff should assess Section 202 properties' compliance with the program's supportive services requirement. Such guidance should include information on the roles and responsibilities of HUD staff for (1) identifying stand-alone Section 202 properties and (2) monitoring the supportive services requirement for Section 202 properties with grant- and budget-based service coordinators, Section 202 properties that do not have service coordinators, and stand-alone Section 202 properties.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: In February 2018, HUD noted that it had implemented a pilot program in 2017 which connected the information systems that some Section 202 properties use to record information on their service coordinator programs to a "grant reporting framework." In February 2018, HUD staff told us that all Section 202 properties with Service Coordinators would be required to use the new grant reporting framework in 2018, and that the new framework included edit checks and other mechanisms designed to improve the reliability of the data reported. In July 2019, HUD noted that they are continuing work on the pilot program and have not analyzed the data yet. They also stated that the pilot includes processes to help ensure the reliability of the data. In October 2019, HUD stated that the pilot ended in FY 2018 and the new grant reporting framework became a national reporting requirement for all Multifamily service coordinator programs (grant-funded and budget-based) in FY 2019. This recommendation will remain open until HUD develops and implements policies and procedures for (1) verifying the accuracy of a sample of performance information, and (2) analyzing the performance information collected. In December 2019, we requested further information from HUD and will continue to follow up on the agency's progress toward implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To better inform Congress and improve what is known about the extent to which elderly residents of Section 202 properties are assisted by service coordinators, the Assistant Secretary for Housing should develop and implement policies and procedures for (1) verifying the accuracy of a sample of the performance information that Section 202 properties submit through semiannual performance reports and (2) analyzing the performance information collected.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development

 

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