HUD's FY 2005 budget anticipated funding for 1.2 million public housing units. Public housing has been decreasing in numbers (1.37 million in 1998, for example), in part because of an initiative to remove, modernize, and refurbish many poorly constructed and dilapidated public housing units. An estimated 3,150 public housing authorities manage the 1.2 million units. In FY 2005, $2.7 billion was allocated to fund major repairs and modernization of units and $3.6 billion was allocated for operating costs.
Public Housing Residents
On its Web site HUD provides a data server on public housing residents called Resident Characteristics Report (http://www.hud.gov/offices/pih/systems/pic/50058/rcr/index.cfm). As of March 31, 2005:
- Average annual income was $10,725. Only 7% of the public housing population earned more than $25,000 a year.
- Among residents, 31% had wage income, 19% had Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) income, 54% had Social Security income, and 18% had other income (the same person could have income from more than one source). Four percent had no income from any source.
- The average rental payment was $243 per month.
- Females with children were 38% of families, 18% were elderly and not disabled, and 11% were elderly with a disability. A number of other, overlapping, categories were shown as well, but notably missing was a category for male-headed families with children.
- Half (50%) of heads of households were white, 46% were black, 2% were Asian, and 1% were American Indians or Alaska Natives. One in five heads of household (21%) were of Hispanic origin.
- Nearly half (46%) of households consisted of just one person, 20% of two, 15% of three, 10% of four, 5% of five, 2% of six, and 1% of seven persons. No households had more than seven persons.
- The 932,850 units reporting data had 2,075,079 household members, with an average household size of 2.2 persons.
- Of units occupied, 7% had no bedroom, 34% had one, 30% had two, 23% had three, 5% had four, and 1% had more than five bedrooms.
- Thirteen percent of the population had been in public housing for more than twenty years, 17% for ten to twenty years, 21% for five to ten years, 23% for two to five years, 11% for a year or two, and 16% had moved during the past year. The rest did not report on length of stay.
Public Housing Agencies
Management of public housing is handled by housing agencies (sometimes called authorities) established by local governments to administer HUD housing programs. The Housing Act of 1937 requires that PHAs submit annual plans to HUD but also declares it to be the policy of the United States "to vest in public housing agencies that perform well the maximum amount of responsibility and flexibility in program administration, with appropriate accountability to public housing residents, localities, and the general public."
PHAs thus operate under plans approved by HUD and under HUD supervision, but they are expected to operate with some independence accountable to their residents, local (or state) governments, and the public. Not all PHAs have "performed well," and HUD has been accused of lax supervision. PHAs and public housing generally reflect the distressed conditions of the population living in government-owned housing. PHAs have been charged with neglecting maintenance, tolerating unsafe living conditions for tenants, and with fraudulent or careless financial practices.
Responding to such accounts, Congress created the National Commission on Severely Distressed Public Housing in 1990. In its report, released in August 1992, the Commission concluded that severely distressed public housing was a national problem. The Commission reported that 86,000 (or 6%) of the nation's public housing units were plagued by crime and deteriorated physical conditions in violation of HUD standards. Five years later the National Housing Institute, a not-for-profit advocacy group, charged that HUD still did not know how much, or which parts, of its public housing inventory met its own "troubled housing" definition despite the fact that these troubled properties represented a significant portion of the available low-income housing in the United States (J. Atlas and E. Shoshkes, Saving Affordable Housing, What Community Groups Can Do and What Government Should Do, National Housing Institute, 1997).
Troubled housing refers to low-income projects that are badly deteriorated, are located in unsafe neighborhoods, or are in danger of being lost to market-rate housing conversion or foreclosure. In an effort to improve its accountability for the conditions of low-income housing, HUD began to implement a new Public Housing Assessment System (PHAS) in January 2000. PHAS is used to measure the performance of public housing agencies. The four primary PHAS components are:
- Physical Inspection Indicator—Ensures that PHAs meet the minimum standard of being decent, safe, sanitary, and in good repair
- Financial Condition Indicator—Oversees the finances of PHAs
- Management Operations Indicator—Evaluates the effectiveness of PHA management methods
- Resident Satisfaction and Service Indicator—Allows public housing residents to assess PHA performance
A March 2002 GAO report commissioned by Congress studied the implementation of PHAS and its progress. The study found that HUD had also formed the Public and Indian Housing Information Center, a database that collected additional information not addressed by PHAS, such as compliance and funding. The findings indicated that as of 2002, PHAS's method of evaluation considered only component three, managerial deficiencies, to declare PHAs as troubled. The plans were to incorporate all four components. Table 5.4 shows the number of the then existing 3,167 authorities investigated that would have been classified as troubled if all four PHAS components had been applied instead of just one ("New Assessment System Holds Potential for Evaluating Performance," Washington, DC: GAO, March 2002). The table shows that 532 PHAs were "troubled" overall or in one area (16.8%), 827 were high performers (26.1%), and 1,808 were standard performers (57.1%).
A 2005 report from the GAO confirmed that HUD continued to have major problems ("Major Management Challenges at the Department of Housing and Urban
Public Housing Assessment System (PHAS) designations, fiscal year 2001
SOURCE: "Table 1. PHAS Designations for Fiscal Year 2001 under Partial and Full Implementation," in Public Housing: New Assessment System Holds Potential for Evaluating Performance, GAO-02-282, U.S. General Accounting Office, March 2002, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d02282.pdf (accessed March 10, 2005)
||Number of authorities
designated under one
|Number of authorities
that could be designated
under four indicators
Troubled in one areaa
aHUD designated no high performers for fiscal year 2001. The only troubled performers were those that were troubled in the management area. b When performance is assessed using all four indicators, housing authorities that are troubled in more than one area become overall troubled. Some of the 45 housing authorities that were troubled in the management area alone under one indicator moved into the overall troubled category when their physical and financial condition were taken into account. As a result, only 24 housing authorities remained troubled in the management area alone under all four indicators.
Development," GAO, February 23, 2005). According to the report, HUD had made some progress in addressing management problems. However, since "some of HUD's corrective actions are still in the early stages of implementation and additional steps are needed to resolve ongoing problems," its rental housing assistance programs remain "high risk."