One Year of Advisory Scores Needed
PHADA President David A. Northern, Sr.
HUD has been working on its new physical inspections program, NSPIRE, for several years now and is making plans to officially implement it this coming spring. HAs with fiscal years ending March 31, 2023, and later would undergo REAC inspections under the new protocol and the scores would be binding.
As a result of this timetable, the Department has stepped up its efforts to provide information to HAs, inspectors, residents and other stakeholders. PHADA appreciates the NSPIRE “road shows” conducted by REAC, ably led by Deputy Assistant Secretary Ashley Sheriff. We commend Sheriff and the rest of her team for hosting the recent sessions, which have been informative and productive. Nevertheless, PHADA believes there are still too many unanswered questions and insufficient information about the inspection protocol, the scoring system, software issues and other considerations to begin in a matter of months.
PHADA’s Concerns About Timing
PHADA stated in its NSPIRE comments that the Department should not roll out the NSPIRE model in a piecemeal approach. Unfortunately, that is what is happening. At this stage, HAs and other stakeholders have not had an opportunity to review either the scoring protocol or the related administrative notice, which governs some important procedures such as appeals.
In short, HAs will be subjected to binding scores – and possible enforcement actions - before the NSPIRE standards, scoring protocols, and administrative notice are finalized. In contrast, we believe that all stakeholders should have an opportunity to evaluate and comment on these important documents as a whole, some of which have not yet been released. For that matter, HUD has not responded to hundreds of public comments it received this past summer.
In response to these concerns, HUD officials have said they will not start inspections until sometime after July and then apply scores retroactively. While this “post facto” arrangement might be somewhat helpful and give some HAs more time to prepare, we have no way of knowing when complete details will be made available to HAs. This is because the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) sign-off and approval is needed and REAC’s timetable is contingent on OMB action. As it stands now, the situation is not fair. It is akin to a professor informing students there is an exam coming up, but not providing needed information on the subject(s) and evaluation criteria.
On top of these concerns, we still do not know how HUD plans to deal with prominent issues such as tenant caused damages, or the need for increased funding for mandatory upgrades such as more smoke detectors. REAC is also planning a new “resident satisfaction” component under the system. We have few details on that key component. In addition, lead time for training of both HAs and HUD staff should be factored in based on hundreds of still-evolving standards and new scoring procedures.
Scoring in HCV and Other Section 8 Programs
The Department is also planning to begin scoring in the various Section 8 programs next autumn. This timeline should be deferred too. PHADA and others have pointed out that it is essential that there is ample time permitted for clarity and buy-in by landlords to ensure successful rollout of NSPIRE in the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program. The Department should consider a later effective date for the voucher program to ensure it does not result in any decrease in utilization, nor units lost in the program given current challenges and limited supply nationwide.
PHADA sees no harm in deferring NSPIRE until it is fully ready. HAs and HUD can still monitor critical health & safety issues through an extended process. When the program is instituted, we believe that agencies must have at least one round of advisory scores under the new protocol before they are subject to any possible enforcement action. In the interest of transparency and fairness, HUD should take the time to get this right.