Comply with Regs Promoting Strong Resident-Management Relationship
HUD expects site owners and managers to build and maintain a good relationship with residents. To create what HUD calls “a suitable living environment,” the participation and cooperation of residents is essential.
Not only does a cooperative relationship make day-to-day life at sites more welcoming and safe, it also contributes to a more successful operation of the site overall. HUD views residents and resident organizations as valuable allies.
HUD Handbook 4381.5, REV-2, Chapter 4, covers regulations that establish several basic requirements for resident involvement. HUD views these requirements as “minimum standards” and encourages owners and managers to take additional steps to foster strong resident-management relations. Recommended steps include:
Promote enhanced communication. Residents and resident organizations should be given the opportunity to voice their views and concerns. Owners and managers are encouraged to actively seek out constructive comments and suggestions.
Increase resident access to management. When residents have easy access to managers, it often increases the likelihood that managers will learn of problems before they escalate into a more severe situation.
Ensure proper consideration and acknowledgement of resident input. When residents offer their input, they need to know that it is taken seriously. Appropriate follow-up shows residents that their views are valued.
Follow up promptly and appropriately. All site staff should be encouraged to respond to resident complaints and concerns promptly and in an appropriate manner. Owners and managers should advise staff who interact regularly with residents to take their concerns seriously. HUD advises owners and managers to establish a system to track resident complaints and concerns, and how they are handled.
Certain Actions Require Resident Feedback
HUD regulations (24 CFR, Part 245) require owners of sites receiving project-based assistance to notify residents in the event the owners are considering certain actions that will affect residents. The regulations stipulate that owners must show that they notified residents of the proposed action and solicited resident input on the impact of the proposed action. This applies to the following proposed actions:
Increase in maximum permissible rents;
Conversion from project-paid utilities to resident-paid utilities or a reduction in resident utility allowances;
Conversion of residential units to nonresident use, or to cooperative housing or condominiums;
Partial release of mortgage security;
Major capital additions; and
Additional resident subsidy or funding under the Flexible Subsidy program.
Details about what is required in these situations can be found in Handbook 4381.5, REV-2, Chapter 4, as well as in Handbook 4350.6.
While HUD outlines its expectations and requirements for open communications and productive resident relationships, many site owners and managers are not aware of them, says Michael Kane, a HUD tenants' rights expert. In fact, oftentimes residents are not even aware that they have certain rights and responsibilities, he points out.
“People in the field are not always aware,” Kane says. “Tenants don't understand that they have rights and when they do, they are afraid to assert their rights. Across the board, there's a need for more education.”
Kane is executive director of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants, a tenant-governed organization of resident groups. His organization was involved in helping to create the Handbook chapter that addresses tenant rights in the mid-1990s. Following that, HUD sent a letter to make field staff aware of the issue, and subsequent to that communication, a brochure called “Resident Rights and Responsibilities” was created and distributed. Designed specifically for residents, the brochure is to be distributed annually by owners or managers.
In 2000, HUD also took a step to give additional structure to the nature of the relationship between residents and management, amending the Part 245 regulations by clarifying residents' rights to organize and setting penalties for owners or agents that violate these rights. Kane says that was an important step.
“The Right to Organize regulations in June 2000 added a whole new layer, requiring owners to recognize groups and spelling out a series of activities that are permissible, such as leafleting, knocking on doors, and posting flyers,” Kane explains. “When these regs came out, it was a major step forward.”
HUD states that residents of its assisted sites have the right to:
Organize without obstruction, harassment, or retaliation from site owners or management;
Post materials in common areas and provide leaflets informing other residents of their rights and of opportunities to be involved;
Meet without the owner or manager present;
Be recognized by property owners and managers as having a voice in residential community affairs; and
Invite outside organizers for assistance in forming tenant associations.
The new regulations also require owners and managers to recognize tenant associations or organizing committees that meet regularly, operate democratically, are representative of all groups in the development, and are “completely independent” of owners or management agents.
Making It More Effective
HUD's efforts to date have been beneficial for residents, Kane says, but more needs to be done. He says that there are still reports of problems when residents attempt to organize or exert rights, such as eviction or threatening to evict, uninvited attendance at tenant meetings, and the offering of preferential inducements to the allies of management.
“Many frontline managers have not been trained,” he says. “Sometimes there's an unhealthy environment in the building when someone with a little power exploits it. Then there are the enlightened managers who welcome organization among residents. They see the benefits.”
Kane says some resident populations could use extra help to understand their rights. “Senior citizens don't always speak up or know that they can,” he notes. “Also, in the last 20 years there has been an increase in people from other countries, so there are language and cultural barriers. There often is a climate of fear among residents…it's a deeply entrenched problem.”
HUD could take a few more steps in the right direction, Kane feels, and he expects to see that happen. “A structured framework for education, training, and support would be good,” he says, “and enforcement by HUD for egregious violations. We are trying to change the culture.”
Michael Kane: Executive Director, National Alliance of HUD Tenants, 42 Seaverns Ave., Boston, MA 02130; (617) 267-9564; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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