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Sunia Zaterman

Sunia Zaterman

Posted: November 11, 2010 11:50 AM

It is hard to know where to start in refuting the recent AP article on public housing. Using skewed numbers and cherry-picked anecdotes, the reporter paints a widely misleading picture that hardly relates to what is actually happening in cities across the country grappling with the most fundamental housing issues.

Let's set the record straight. There are more than 3,100 housing authorities in the country and nearly all are deemed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to be either high or standard performers. In HUD's most recent assessment, half of all housing agencies were deemed to be high performers demonstrating that they operate to HUD's highest standards.

This is no cursory review. The Public Housing Assessment System (PHAS) is a comprehensive assessment, modeled on the same processes used for private multifamily properties and military housing that examines the physical condition of the properties, the financial and operational management of the PHA portfolio, and the residents' satisfaction with their housing.

The AP article notes 146 agencies as "troubled"-- less than five percent of the total number of agencies -- to portray an entire industry as rife with "rampant mismanagement." This off-base conclusion is not supported by the facts. Every agency listed in the article was not deemed "troubled" by HUD. For a significant number, HUD claimed a deficiency in one area. Authorities are only designated as troubled when HUD claims deficiencies in two of three possible assessment areas.

In fact, a more recent HUD list shows only 31 troubled agencies -- 1% of the total number of agencies affecting less than 1% of all public housing units. The list is fluid because agencies often successfully challenge HUD claims of deficiencies -- that is why there is an appeals process.

This performance record is even more remarkable when you remember that the industry is facing a staggering $30 billion backlog in capital needs.

Here are the facts that tell the real story. Public housing is:

  • Home to our most vulnerable populations -- about 2.2 million seniors, people with disabilities and low income families. Elderly households represent 31% of all residents, and 34% of all households are headed by someone with a disability. Two out of every five residents is a child. 70% of households are extremely low-income; 71% of households have annual incomes of less than $15,000.
  • A resource needed now more than ever. HUD reports show that only one out of every four families that qualifies for assisted housing receives help. With record home losses and poverty rates, the need for housing assistance is continuing to outpace supply. In most cities, applicants wait for years for housing assistance - when Chicago opened its waiting list this summer for the first time in a decade, more than 200,000 households applied.
  • An economic engine, which is why Congress chose to make a $4 billion capital fund investment in this portfolio through the Recovery Act. Preliminary findings from an economic impact study show that each of these dollars generates $3.12 of economic activity. These Recovery Act funds, obligated in record time by authorities, are expected to create or save 100,000 jobs, and have already been used to renovate 245,000 apartments.

Public housing authorities are on the front lines, carrying out a critical role to serve the most basic needs of people who are most in need. They do it efficiently and effectively and that is what the facts tell us.