At every NAHT Conference, tenant leaders ask HUD officials how their buildings can score passing REAC inspection scores when they know their buildings are in complete disrepair. In fact, there are multiple reports of buildings passing with flying colors, with scores as high as in the 90s, when they should score a failing grade, below 60. What’s more, tenants know that landlords will do the bare minimum of repairs in order to get a barely passing score and escape follow-up and enforcement from HUD. This is a product the federal government’s systematic defunding of HUD, leading the agency to contract inspections out to private companies.
NAHT updated its recommendations for REAC reform in 2015. Several VISTAs, led by Nehemiah Bey, Devondrick Jeffers and others, were encountering substandard properties with high REAC scores. NAHT formed a Special REAC Task Force which recommended changes in REAC’s scoring system to better respond to mold, bedbugs and other common problems ignored in REAC’s current system. NAHT has advocated for these changes at every NAHT conference and Board meeting with HUD officials since that time, led by Board leaders Geraldine Collins, Demetrius Bonner, Rachel Williams, Charlotte Delgado, Charlotte Rodgers and others.
Recently, HUD published a new notice, Notice 2018-8, regarding HUD enforcement actions for substandard properties. The new Notice implements Congressional amendments to the enforcement process in FY 2017, and replaces Notice 2015-2. The notice implements several recommendations made by NAHT tenant leaders, but also takes a few steps backwards in regards to tenant involvement when a building scores between 30 and 60.
On the plus side, the new Notice, for the first time, allows HUD to issue a Demand for Corrective Action for properties with REAC scores above 60, if there are:
- Less than 50% of possible REAC points earned in any category, particularly within units;
- Repeated inspection findings that indicate systemic deficiencies;
- Significant inspection findings that may pose health and safety risks to the tenants;
- Significant local code violations;
- Multiple tenant complaints about property condition; and/or
- Conditions observed by OAMPO staff during a site visit outside of a REAC or MOR.
This opens up an important avenue for tenant organizing and advocacy. “Multiple tenant complaints” and “significant code violations” give us an avenue to invite HUD enforcement actions. Also, if REAC scores are high but there are “systemic deficiencies” (such as mold) “within units”, HUD can issue a Demand for Corrective Action.
On the down side, HUD enforcement is now discretionary for properties with REAC scores above 30 but below 60. The previous requirement for a Compliance, Disposition and Enforcement (CDE) Plan has been dropped. Where properties score below 60, HUD can require a 100% unit survey and corrective action plan, but this is no longer required to be shared with tenants. The only Notice requirement is to share Notices of Default/Violation with tenants, but not the Survey or corrective plans. Following the FY 2017 Congressional amendment, tenant notice and participation has been downgraded. NAHT leaders will continue to fight for tenants to be included in the repairs and renovations process when their homes receive scores less than 60 but more than 30.
NAHT has long advocated for these positive changes in REAC, most recently in the NAHT Board’s October meeting with Brian Montgomery, HUD’s newly confirmed Assistant Secretary for Housing. Montgomery opened the meeting by recalling his discussions with NAHT on REAC reform in 2007, when he was previously at HUD, and that reforming REAC was one of his top priorities.
Our persistence is getting results! We will keep the heat on until REAC’s scores are brought up to date, and continue advocating for NAHT’s recommendations to involve tenants in REAC inspections.