Public Housing Subsidies:

Revisions to HUD's Performance Funding System Could Improve Adequacy of Funding

RCED-98-174: Published: Jun 19, 1998. Publicly Released: Jun 19, 1998.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Performance Funding System (PFS) for allocating appropriated funds to housing agencies as operating subsidies, focusing on: (1) how PFS allocates the congressionally appropriated subsidy among public housing agencies; (2) whether PFS meets the subsidy needs of individual housing agencies; (3) how HUD's budget estimates of housing agencies' annual need for operating subsidies are developed and whether the estimates are appropriate; and (4) some of the possible options that HUD might have for changing PFS to make it a more effective tool for subsidizing housing agencies.

GAO noted that: (1) PFS allocates the congressional appropriation by providing an operating subsidy to each housing agency based on that agency's HUD-approved operating expenses during the base year 1975, less its income, plus certain annual adjustments; (2) the adjusted base year cost is known as the allowable expense level; (3) HUD did not develop its allocation method on the basis of standards of housing needs because it believed that reaching a consensus on these standards would have been too difficult; (4) however, twice over the last 23 years, HUD developed and used cost models based on specific factors directly related to the operating costs of well-managed housing agencies, including the age and height of buildings and the prevailing government wage rates; (5) the operating subsidies that the PFS provides to housing agencies may not be adequate for agencies with base year expenditures that were low or agencies with operating circumstances or costs that have undergone significant change since 1975; (6) although the PFS provides for annual adjustments to account for inflation and the aging of public housing stock, these increases might not have been enough for the agencies with base year spending that did not adequately reflect their needs or those with expenses that have increased more rapidly than HUD's allowed adjustments; (7) GAO found that agencies have experienced significant operational changes since 1975 that have affected their costs; (8) to develop its budget estimate for the operating subsidies housing agencies will need in a coming fiscal year, HUD estimates the needs of a representative sample of housing agencies and projects this estimate to the population of nearly 3,200 housing agencies; (9) inadequate subsidies can be a serious problem for housing agencies that are highly dependent on subsidies and need them to meet current obligations; (10) HUD has several options for making PFS a more accurate and effective funding tool; (11) in the past, information on physical housing conditions, comparative costs, or other data needed to implement a cost model has not been readily obtainable, and the cost of developing such information for all agencies was believed to be high; and (12) data that HUD is currently developing on housing agencies' financial and physical conditions should be useful to HUD as it considers new ways of allocating operating subsidies.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation is now 7 years old and still not implemented. Events relating to the funding of public housing have moved beyond this recommendation. Therefore, the recommendation is being closed as not implemented.

    Recommendation: As HUD considers its various options for redesigning the PFS, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should also consider establishing a process that: (1) allows housing agencies to appeal their expense levels when they believe that significant changes have occurred over time in their operating circumstances that cause their subsidy to be inappropriate; and (2) HUD can use to review housing agencies' expense levels that it believes may be excessive.

    Agency Affected: Department of Housing and Urban Development


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