In a sweeping, long-awaited overhaul of the inspection process for federally-subsidized public and low-income housing developments, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will loosen certain proposed safety requirements for landlords and housing authorities. The changes to the recently drafted standards come after years of lobbying by local housing agencies and industry groups, many of which warned that more stringent regulations may push property managers and landlords away from critical programs like Section 8.
According to NBC News, the new inspection system that HUD is developing will be the first update to Section 8 housing since the 1970s and the first broader change to public housing since the 1990s. The agency has already implemented new guidelines on the hazards that constitute “life-threatening” conditions that must be addressed immediately by property managers or owners. More broadly, the new standards will focus on conditions within individual residential units rather than cosmetic problems related to building exteriors—a change that some housing advocates hope will prompt quicker responses to common issues such as mold, broken heaters, infestations, and deteriorating ceilings.
After pushback from some landlords and property groups, though, the Biden administration’s housing agency decided to walk back new standards that would have required fire extinguishers on every floor. The current draft also fails to prohibit fire doors from being propped open, despite state investigations that concluded that open fire doors were partly to blame for the deaths of five public housing tenants in a blaze in Minneapolis in 2019. HUD’s proposed regulations fall well short of standards set by both the International Code Council and the National Fire Protection Association.
While tenant organizations are largely supportive of the overhaul of HUD inspection rules that began under the Trump administration, the most recent alterations to the draft standards sparked criticism from many housing advocates. According to NBC News, representatives from the National Alliance of HUD Tenants accused the department of retreating from earlier indications that it would move to protect the system’s most vulnerable residents.
The current tension between tenant advocates and industry groups is emblematic of severe strains on the national public housing system, which has gone chronically underfunded for decades. Housing groups note that the dilapidation of much of the nation’s public housing stock is symptomatic of a $70 billion budget gap that would need to be filled before owners can make necessary repairs. The Biden administration’s initial infrastructure plan included $40 billion to meet capital needs in the industry, but a new, smaller bipartisan bill eliminated that allocation. Without it, it is unclear when, and if, HUD will approve stricter rules concerning the safety of its 5 million tenants.