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President’s Forum: An Unhappy Anniversary

Slowly but Surely, Brighter Days Coming

PHADA President John Hodge.

It is now one full year ago since the entire world changed. Beginning in March 2020, we all had to make adjustments in our professional and personal lives, adjustments that will continue into some unknown time in the future depending on a variety of factors. In the interim, more than half a million Americans have tragically lost their lives to COVID-19 and about 2.5 million worldwide have perished. The pandemic has resulted in the greatest public health crisis the world has faced in 100 years while precipitating an economic calamity too.

It is hard to pinpoint the exact start of the pandemic, but I think it really hit most Americans on March 11–12 when schools around the country started shutting their doors and even the National Basketball Association suspended its ongoing season. The actor Tom Hanks announced that he and his wife had contracted the disease, which jolted us into the realization that no one is immune to the dangers posed by this killer. Some HAs in the most impacted areas started closing offices around then and many housing professionals have worked remotely since, only returning to the office when necessary. Indeed, these have been challenging times for our residents, staff and families as we have adapted to a world with limited human contact.

I wrote in this column around this time last year that these are obviously unprecedented times. Accordingly, dealing with the coronavirus outbreak has become PHADA’s highest priority to this day as we continue efforts to preserve the health and safety of our residents and staffs.

PHADA’s elected leadership and staff met on March 12, 2020, and immediately developed a list of specific suggestions for HUD and Congress in correspondence we sent to then-HUD Secretary Ben Carson and congressional leaders. “PHADA urges you to take any and all necessary steps to waive or suspend all rules and regulations that require actions by PHAs and/or their residents to engage in one-on-one personal interactions, or to complete steps and tasks that cannot be effectively completed because of the adoption of recommended social distancing practices” we wrote. I am not sure we really understood then that these policies would still need to be in place now.

Among other things, we recommended that all physical inspections cease along with scoring under HUD’s assessment programs for public housing, voucher, and other housing programs. We also suggested that all income certification requirements be eased in addition to a host of other waivers and emergency flexibilities. Virtually all of our suggestions were accepted and implemented. Most of those waivers remain in effect (see PHADA’s CARES Act Quick-Guide for PHAs) and should continue well into the future.

We also immediately began communications with Congress to advocate for additional resources needed to combat the virus. I am proud that PHADA has helped obtain billions in additional public housing operating funding and Section 8 project-based and tenant-based assistance. We are now working to secure even more assistance.

The association also established a special section on our website to share information with members about the work of HAs all over the country. If you have not already done so, you may want to access the useful information on some of the innovative plans and approaches HAs have instituted including remote work policies and testing and vaccination efforts.

Like so many other organizations and businesses, we have had to postpone our in-person meetings, which has forced us to explore new ways of providing information to members. Most HAs have been pleased with the virtual committee meetings and conferences that we have conducted along with some special purpose zoom casts on COVID-19 related topics such as CARES Act waivers and reporting. We are now planning for another virtual meeting, which will be held May 17–18. Please see page 10 for further information.

 

HAs on the Front Lines

Housing authorities across the country have stepped up their efforts over the last year to continue providing vital housing assistance to those most in need. Many have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help residents with food service delivery, access to internet-based tools needed for remote education and work, and medical assistance too. Indeed, my agency and hundreds of others all over the United States are working now to help deliver and administer desperately needed vaccinations to residents. This important work will continue until such a time when the deadly virus no longer poses a threat to our communities.

The additional funding, waivers and other flexibilities provided by Washington have been very helpful to our agencies and millions of residents. It is apparent that more help is needed, though. To that end, PHADA is encouraging HUD to extend many of the existing waivers and even make some permanent. We are also working with our industry partners to secure more funding for housing. The pending House package includes an additional $25 billion in emergency housing assistance including $5 billion for Housing Choice Vouchers.

Working with others, we are urging the Centers for Disease Control and HUD to do their utmost to get vaccines out faster to U.S. communities. We have joined with other groups suggesting CDC do more to secure pharmacy partners for vaccine clinics at the thousands of highly at-risk communities left behind, including public housing, project-based Section 8, and Section 202 communities.

 

Conclusion

We do not know for sure when “normal” will return or what the new normal may even look like when the public health threat recedes. I am hopeful this time next year will be brighter for our communities and the world beyond, and that we will once again be able to share our joys and sorrows in person. Here’s to the day we can all see each other’s smiling faces without a mask!

Brighter days do appear to be on the horizon with more vaccines getting circulated and better weather and economic conditions coming too. I can assure you that, in any case, PHADA will continue to be a strong voice in Washington and advocate for our needs to those at HUD and on Capitol Hill.