HUD Lacks Adequate Procedures to Ensure PHAs Properly Process Reasonable Accommodation Requests
HUD's Office of Inspector General (OIG) audited HUD's oversight of its PHAs’ reasonable accommodation policies and procedures. A reasonable accommodation is a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces, or to fulfill their program obligations. The OIG audit report identified some common reasonable accommodations and modifications examples:
- A PHA has a policy of not providing assigned parking spaces. A tenant with a mobility impairment, who has difficulty walking, is provided a reasonable accommodation by receiving an assigned accessible parking space in front of his or her unit.
- A PHA has a policy of requiring tenants to hand-deliver their rent payments to the rental office. A tenant with a mental disability, who is afraid to leave his or her unit, is provided a reasonable accommodation by being allowed to mail the rent payments.
- A PHA has a no pets policy. A tenant who uses a wheelchair and has difficulty lifting items off the ground can have an assistance animal that fetches items for him or her as a reasonable accommodation to that disability.
- Structural modifications might include adding grab bars to the tenant’s bathroom, installing a ramp to enter a building for a wheelchair-bound tenant, or lowering the entry threshold of the tenant’s unit.
This audit was conducted because OIG identified an increase in housing discrimination complaints based on a failure to provide a reasonable accommodation, even as the total number of all housing discrimination complaints was decreasing.
Auditors found that HUD didn’t have adequate policies and procedures for ensuring that PHAs properly addressed, assessed, and fulfilled requests for reasonable accommodation. HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) is responsible for oversight of PHAs’ operations, which should include the processing of reasonable accommodation requests in public housing. And HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) is responsible for receiving and investigating complaints under the Fair Housing Act to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination has occurred or is about to occur.
In October 1999, HUD published a Federal Register notice to advise of a change of responsibility within HUD for civil rights front-end reviews for HUD programs. Civil rights front-end review checklists help in identifying and tracking civil rights-related issues. It examines issues that may cause discrimination in the PHA’s program activities, such as adopting a local preference that significantly disadvantages members of a protected class, opening a waiting list in a manner that prevents eligible minorities or persons with disabilities from applying, or the use of a policy requiring that residents be able to live independently.
According to the notice, each HUD program discipline such as Public and Indian Housing (PIH) was tasked with conducting civil rights front-end reviews for the programs it administers. This notice further stated that HUD’s FHEO would work with the program offices to develop any processing documents needed for conducting front-end reviews.
As a result, HUD PIH and FHEO entered into a joint agreement, requiring PIH staff to complete certain actions in conjunction with its comprehensive review, including obtaining a Section 504 compliance protocol checklist as part of a civil rights front-end review, completed by the PHA, which covered reasonable accommodation policies and procedures and accessible unit counts. For example, the protocol checklist included questions such as:
- How are requests from applicants or residents asking for a reasonable accommodation handled, if the PHA does not have a policy?
- When is the reasonable accommodation policy given to an applicant or present tenants?
- How does the PHA staff communicate with persons who have hearing, speech, and/or visual impairments?
Auditors found that HUD didn’t perform civil rights front-end reviews as required. These occurred because HUD PIH didn’t include in its compliance monitoring guidance a requirement for personnel to review PHAs’ reasonable accommodation policies and procedures, and didn’t believe it was responsible for conducting civil rights front-end reviews.
Also, auditors found that the compliance monitoring guidance used by PIH field offices during their PHA monitoring didn’t include a requirement for field offices to review reasonable accommodation policies and procedures. Auditors surveyed directors in charge of HUD’s PIH field offices and found that field offices didn’t review PHAs’ reasonable accommodation policies and procedures either because it wasn’t required in any of the compliance monitoring guidance or checklists or they were relying on FHEO to do such reviews.
The report noted that during the audit HUD PIH was updating its guidance for requests for reasonable accommodation, including issuing a new fair housing chapter to assist with updating and centralizing established guidance and ensuring more consistent oversight of PHAs.
OIG recommends that HUD’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Housing and Voucher Programs: (1) update and consolidate its reasonable accommodation policies and procedures to ensure that there is centralized guidance available for the field offices and PHAs; (2) conduct additional outreach efforts to educate tenants and PHAs on their rights and responsibilities related to requests for reasonable accommodation; and (3) require that PHAs track requests for reasonable accommodations, including the date of the request, the type of request, and the disposition and date of any action taken that should be made available to HUD at its request.
- HUD Audit 2022-BO-0001