HUD Holds National Multifamily Conference Call, Issues Q&A Guidance
On March 18, HUD’s Office of Multifamily Housing held a national conference call updating stakeholders on their COVID-19 response and operations. HUD staff who spoke on the conference call included Deputy Assistant Secretary Lamar Seats, Assistant Deputy Assistant Secretary Jeff Little, Deputy Director of the Office of Multifamily Production Tom Bernaciak, Director of Office of Asset Management Toby Halliday, and Senior Advisor Robert Iber.
Comments from Lamar Seats: Seats emphasized that the Office of Multifamily Housing is fully operational. He also pointed out that President Trump’s announcement regarding the suspension of eviction and foreclosures in FHA-backed properties applied only to single-family housing.
Comments from Jeff Little: While most of HUD staff is teleworking, all of HUD’s core business functions are moving forward. The Office of Multifamily Housing and the Office of Public and Indian Housing are coordinating with each other and collaborating with the Department of Health and Human Services on resources related to tenant health that HUD can provide. Little emphasized that owners should look to local health authorities and the CDC for health-related guidance and assistance.
Comments from Toby Halliday: As the director of the Office of Asset Management and Portfolio Oversight, Halliday stated that they were receiving many asset management and operational questions. He said that some questions were addressed in the HUD-issued Multifamily COVID-19 Q&A. This document can be found at www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/Housing/documents/MF_Corona_QA_FINAL_3-12-20.pdf.
Halliday also stated that they’ve received many questions regarding restricting visitors. He said he could address this issue only broadly. He stated that the CDC allows visitor restrictions for long-term care facilities. In general, however, unless a visitor restriction is mandated by a state or local official, HUD owners must be careful not to infringe on resident rights in their independent living environments.
With regard to residents who’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or who test positive for it and whether staff can go into their units, Halliday stated, in general, it’s not a good idea for property staff to ask medical questions. HUD suggests that if anyone wants to access a unit, staff should ask if it’s safe to come in, if the resident has been sick or has traveled recently. Then, let property staff individually decide for themselves whether to go into units. Ultimately, if there’s a confirmed COVID-19 case at the site, HUD recommends following CDC and local health guidelines; HUD is not giving medical-related advice.
Highlights of HUD’s COVID-19 Multifamily Q&A
On March 24, 2020, HUD published another update to its COVID-19 Q&A for HUD Multifamily professionals. This is the fourth update to the Q&A, as HUD continues to use this document to address the increasing concerns of owners, staff, and residents. Much of the Q&A directs owners to refer to current guidelines recommended by the CDC, as it relates to hygiene and social distancing. The following are some points regarding resident health and property reviews and inspections that are important to note:
Follow HIPAA and other privacy laws. In the event of a confirmed COVID-19 case at your site, you can share this information with your residents and staff without giving them the name/apartment number/other personally identifiable information of the person infected. HUD reminds owners that they continue to remain subject to HIPAA and other privacy laws.
Verify need before utilizing vacant units. If a person under quarantine has additional family members who need to be kept separate and are asking you to use vacant units for quarantine, HUD says resident requests to occupy vacant units or temporarily relocate should be verified before being granted. Verification could include written communication from a medical health professional or through communication with the local health department. You may use electronic and telephonic communication to perform verification. Although HUD indicates that utilizing vacant units to separate household members is allowable, HUD isn’t mandating it.
Consider COVID an “extenuating circumstance” for interviews, signing forms. For residents who are ill or have concerns about coming to the office for their recertification interview, to sign consent forms, or to sign form HUD-50059, you may consider COVID-19 an “extenuating circumstance.”
HUD recommends you begin or accomplish the above actions within 90 days of being advised of the extenuating circumstance. When an extenuating circumstance is present, there’s no change to the tenant’s recertification anniversary date. The Total Tenant Payment/Tenant Rent and the assistance payment are effective retroactively to the recertification anniversary date. You must document in the file why the signature(s) wasn’t obtained and, if applicable, when the signature(s) will be obtained.
If you’re working on recertifications for residents affected by COVID19, HUD will allow electronic signatures as long as you obtain original, “wet” signatures on recertification documents at a later date. In particular, the HUD-9887/9887A, which is usually signed at the beginning of the recertification process and allows the owner/agent to begin verifying documentation, requires an original, “wet” signature. Other recertification documents that will require original, “wet” signatures to be obtained at a later date include but are not limited to the HUD-50059, lease agreements/addendums, HUD-9887/9887A, affidavits of unemployment and zero income, and state lifetime sex offender forms.
Tenants can also provide the background documentation for the recertification process, including but not limited to paystubs, SS/SSI/SSP awards, bank statements, and public assistance documents, by email to you at their discretion. With the above flexibility, you can complete a temporary recertification using electronic versions of these documents and collect the original documents from the tenant at a later date.
Process income reductions due to COVID-19. Some residents may experience a reduction in income due to COVID-19. According to HUD, current policy states that owners must process an interim recertification if a tenant reports a decrease in income that will last for more than one month. Since owners and agents are required to make interim re-examinations of a tenant’s income upon tenant request within a reasonable time frame, HUD encourages owners to review and update their current policies to allow for expedited reviews of these requests. HUD will also work to expedite its review and approval of these interim certifications. The same guidelines for electronic signatures and submittal of documents electronically from above apply here.
Postpone MORs, REAC inspections. HUD is suspending standard Management and Occupancy Reviews (MORs) until the Performance-Based Contract Administrator (PBCA) determines that local conditions no longer limit or prevent the PBCA from performing MORs safely. In addition, all REAC property inspections for all multifamily properties are being postponed until further notice. However, if there’s an exigent circumstance or reason to believe that there’s a threat to life or property at a specific location, inspections will be conducted by HUD quality assurance inspectors in compliance with CDC guidelines.
- Follow CDC guidance for health-related matters.
- Follow the Multifamily Q&A for housing program matters; it will be updated often.
- HUD’s Office of Multifamily Housing is fully operational; submit questions to MFCommunications@hud.gov.
- Follow privacy laws when disclosing infection information.
- Verify need before using vacant units for quarantine.
- You may process recertifications under “extenuating circumstances” rules.
- Unless a visitor restriction is mandated by a state or local official, be careful not to infringe on resident rights when limiting visitors.
- MORs and REAC inspections have been postponed.