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Commenters Largely Aligned in Responses to NSPIRE Demonstration Notice

Seth Embry, PHADA Policy Analyst

In response to the NSPIRE Demonstration Notice, HUD received thirty-one comments including PHADA’s. In reviewing the twenty-nine posted to the regulations.gov site, PHADA found consistent themes and repeated messages from a diverse array of commenters. These commenters, which include public housing agencies (HAs), multifamily property owners, researchers, various industry associations and one tenant’s group all provided valuable information that HUD can use to improve the Demonstration from both a policy and process perspective. (PHADA’s comments were published in the October 30 edition of the Advocate and can be viewed here.

HAs, owners, agents (together, those three entities are known at POAs) and industry groups largely reflected the same sentiments. Commenters uniformly support HUD’s decision to put a greater focus on resident health and safety over item condition and appearance. This adjustment has been requested for years from HAs, owners, and tenants alike.

“HACLA again commends HUD/REAC for focusing the revised protocol and standards on health/safety and functionality instead of appearance. We also agree with HUD’s assessment that deficiencies related to health and safety are a better indicator of the overall quality of the properties….”
          —Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA)

“We applaud HUD’s objective in seeking to improve the identification and remediation of health and safety hazards in properties.”
          —Green & Healthy Homes Initiative

“SAHF members agree that an increased focus on health, safety and function of the property is appropriate and a better way to ensure that HUD-assisted housing is in good condition.”
          —Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF)

“IREM supports the Department’s new and innovative model which focuses on health, safety, and function while limiting the inspection of some condition and appearance deficiencies.”
          —Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM)

 

Additionally, virtually all comments from owners and operators of assisted housing and the groups representing that industry urged HUD to consider resident behavior as a factor when assessing unit quality and cease penalizing owners and HAs for tenant-caused damage.

“HUD must recognize, and the NSPIRE scoring must account for the fact that POAs have the least amount of control over the inside of the unit.”
          —National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB)

“NSPIRE will place a greater weight on conditions within the units, while HABC will continue to have limited ability to ensure that residents take and maintain appropriate action.”
          —Housing Authority of the City of Baltimore (HABC)

“There is insufficient information as to how HUD will address tenant created issues… a tenant’s housekeeping practices could be very subjective and cause a property to fail when management has little control over outcome.”
          —Greystone Servicing Company

“SHA is committed to educating our tenants about how to care for their unit and is dedicated to inspecting units regularly to identify and fix deficiencies. We encourage HUD to develop a scoring system that does not punish the housing authority for items such as those that are beyond the agency’s control.”
          —Seattle Housing Authority (SHA)

 

Many commenters observed that it was unreasonable for HUD to expect to receive comprehensive feedback having provided so few details about the inspections and scoring under the Demonstration. There were likewise many comments specifically related to the lack of explanation for what HUD is now considering a health and safety deficiency. As stated in PHADA’s comments, HUD now includes deficiencies that have a speculative relationship to resident health and safety in that category of deficiencies.

“It is difficult to provide useful feedback because the Notice did not provide information on the proposed scoring methodologies or the [health and safety] deficiency criteria.”
          —Mortgage Bankers Association

“NSPIRE as we understand it, classifies the majority of findings (90.5 percent) as health and safety violations, which is a substantial and significant departure from the current UPCS model.”
          —National Leased Housing Association

“…[W]e are concerned about… the overall lack of specificity regarding how HUD defines its health and safety standards.”
          —Housing Authority of Baltimore City

 

Commenters are excited about the prospect of an inspections system that limits assessments to objective criteria. However, commenters who have reviewed the proposed standards posted on HUD’s website expressed concern that the Department has not removed enough subjective criteria from the standards and as is necessary.

“…[S]everal items listed on the health and safety deficiencies are vague and require more clarity. We urge HUD to better define the list.”
          —Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority

“…[W]e have concerns that the proposed standards continue to suffer from serious subjectivity issues. Many of the standards describe deficiencies in vague terms that require more clarity for PHAs to fully understand how property conditions will be assessed.”
          —Council of Large Public Housing Authorities (CLPHA)

“Another of the stated goals is to make inspections more objective. From the proposed protocols that have been posted to date this goal is not being met.”
          —Affordable Housing Management Association-Pacific Southwest

 

Commenters were also sensitive to the potential financial and administrative costs of the Demonstration and urged HUD to consider those and provide support when possible.

“To prevent additional administrative burden and cost, HUD must ensure its software and technology components for self-inspections are compatible with the current tools used by industry practitioners.”
          —National Affordable Housing Management Association

“It is critical that HUD continue asking participating PHAs about the administrative burden related to NSPIRE throughout the demonstration…. Continuous self-reporting throughout the year and submission of all work orders and preventative maintenance orders may add significant administrative burden to small PHAs….”
          —National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials

 

There were an array of comments concerning the quality and reliability of inspectors. PHADA’s comments suggested the use of credentialed experts and that HUD evaluate how multiple inspectors evaluate the same property to measure the objectivity of the new standards. Commenters agreed with this assessment and provided additional suggestions.

“Inspector training isn’t addressed; who will qualify to conduct NSPIRE inspections, what is necessary to quality as an NSPIRE inspector and who will be responsible for conducting training on the NSPIRE protocol…?”
          —Greystone Servicing Company

“…[O]ver the past several years, REAC inspectors evaluating SHA’s properties have been inconsistent in their approach and scoring.”
—Seattle Housing Authority

“One particular change NAHB recommends for reducing or eliminating subjectivity in the inspections is to have inspectors answer objective yes or no answers to questions about function.”
—NAHB

 

Two comments from insect experts encouraged HUD to more thoughtfully incentivize the use of monitoring devices and traps in a property’s integrated pest management program. Currently, the presence of pests on glue boards and other traps can be cited as a deficiency although experts, and HUD’s own guidance (PIH Notice 2007-12), recommend their use to determine the presence of an infestation.

“Pests are widespread and difficult to control in multifamily housing…. Deductions should not depend solely on presence or absence of pests.”
          —Urban Entomology Initiative of the Medical, Urban, and Veterinary Entomology Section of the Entomological Society of America

 

Three commenters request that HUD ensure information about a property’s participation in the Demonstration be provided to residents. They also recommend that HUD provide an avenue for residents to provide feedback on the physical condition of the property and the Demonstration.

“The NSPIRE demonstration provides an opportunity to… test the integration of a resident survey into the physical inspection process. HUD should take advantage of the opportunity and include tenant surveys as part of the NSPIRE model and demonstration.”
—National Housing Law Project

“NSPIRE offers a welcome opportunity… for HUD to embrace residents as allies, not obstacles, to successful inspection outcomes.”
          —National Alliance of HUD Tenants

 

Commenters provided additional guidance that HUD should seriously consider. The submitted comments reflect a hunger for positive changes to the inspection process but concern over some of the decisions that have been made to date. All comments can be accessed here.