Reasons for the decrepit condition
The stories of poor conditions of Public Housing, around the country, have long been talked about and highlighted in newspapers. These facilities serve people with the lowest incomes, elderly, people, with disabilities and the poorest families with children. A number of the buildings of public Housing are in such a dilapidated condition that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has taken over control from the local Public Housing Agency (PHA) of that particular city.
There have been numerous factors that can explain the decay of these public housing and reasons that made it difficult to maintain the buildings.
- First and the foremost reason in that the majority of the building hosting subsidized tenants are very old structures.
- The second most rampant cause is the fraud or mismanagement at the local PHA or policy errors at the federal level drained away from the funds allocated for the maintenance.
- The annual inspection system of the HUD has vital flaws and buildings with very poor living conditions are still approved.
- The lack of resources for regular repairs and preservation and continuing capital upgrading is attributed to the biggest impact on the deteriorating of public housing.
- The old buildings need regular repairs on top of making them energy efficient; some need new roofs, boiling systems, and other major expensive up-gradations. The fact remains that there has been little construction of Public Housing since 1981 with a majority of them built before 1970, which means the most of public housing buildings are 30-50 years old.
- In 2018, the HUD secretary announced the return of the local control of some buildings back to the local PHAs even when a majority of these buildings failed the federal inspection. This could be translated that even HUD oversight does not guarantee any improvement of that Public Housing properties. In an unprecedented case, HUD decided to demolish or selling 400 units of the Wellston Housing Authority (WHA) in Missouri instead of renovating or rebuilding them.
- The operating funds issued to these housing blocks are aimed to pay for small regular repairs (replacing bulbs, fixing stoves, stopping leakages, repairing broken windows, etc.) and not for the major overhauling. It was almost two decades ago when the PHAs received operating funds to cover basic maintenance. Fixing older buildings get costlier at times when bigger issues arise due to smaller repairs not done in time. There has been an estimated 5-17 percent shortfall of operating funds.
How to improve the quality of living
- Congress approves all the funding and provides oversight of all federal agencies, including HUD. As the investment serves our most vulnerable segment of American society, it must provide required finances for the housing for the masses it represents. It has to amend laws or strive to pass fresh legislation where required.
- The Public Housing Capital Fund is to pay for major up keeping, renovations and improvements like replacing boilers, installing new roofs. It also takes care of improving safety, accessibility for disabled residents and energy efficiency improvements. The major setback since 2000 has been that the funding for the Capital Fund has fallen 35%. It resulted that even the best-managed PHAs could not maintain their buildings. The major step the administration can take to improve the condition is to enhance the allocation of the Capital funds to its pre-2000 level immediately.
- The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has been criticized in the press for its failure to deal with lead paint clean-up and having many buildings that lacked heat because of old and broken boilers. Due to this, NYCHA recently decided to initiate a campaign to upgrade a number of its Public Housing properties.
- The existing inspection structure, supervised by HUD’s Real Estate Assessment Center (REAC) was shaped in the late-1990s. But now HUD relies on third-party inspectors to look at the buildings, which add to the wide range of inspection results. Landlords too have been known to hire advisors to help them pass inspections without making necessary repairs. HUD Secretary has said the department is working to strengthen inspection standards including reducing the notice time to owners from the current 4 months’ notice to only seven days. This suggested change is expected to improve conditions.
- The present HUD initiative of the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program offers PHAs to switch such poor shaped Housing properties to Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA). This allows the PHA to attract private funding to pay for expensive overhauls which proved to be a practical solution for at least a few properties.
- Another measure through which the quality of existing housing can be regulated is through tenancy laws. This would prove more important as rental housing is increasing and becoming a common option, particularly for the long term tenants. Recently, some state governments have amended tenancy laws to specify “minimum standards” for rental housing. Research conducted in this regards also supported these moves, with an addition that the security of tenure also had to be improved to protect renters when they assert their rights. The responsibility of legal enforcement could also be shifted from tenants to regulators.
- The split encouragement problem means several landowners are unwilling to pay for upgrades where tenants are the recipients. As a result, renters are likely to suffer. A credible solution is for governments to take the least standards approach and legislate energy efficiency as compulsory
- Social housing landlords need to be more accountable to lodgers and the general public. Transparent reporting on property conditions, safeguarding and tenant satisfaction, led by the social housing sector, can and should be rolled out as standard practice across the sector.