Nine Required Topics to Include in Your Resident Selection Plan
If you own or manage an assisted site, you must have a written resident selection plan that incorporates the policies and procedures covering each step of the selection process. And your plan must comply with HUD’s eligibility, admission, and screening requirements [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4 (A)]. HUD spells out the topics you must include in your plan, as well as other topics it recommends you include.
HUD doesn’t approve resident selection plans except when owners wish to adopt local or residency preferences [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4 (B)]. But if HUD staff becomes aware that a plan fails to comply with applicable requirements, the owner must modify the plan accordingly.
It’s important to have a well-written resident selection plan because it can show HUD you’re complying with its rules. Among the first things HUD staffers look for when conducting a management review of your site is that you have a written resident selection plan. Not having a written plan violates HUD rules and lowers your review score. Plus, it sends a signal that you’re sloppy about processing applications, which can prompt HUD to do a more thorough review of your screening and selection process. A well-written plan, on the other hand, will help convince HUD that you’re managing the site effectively.
In addition, the plan can help you train staff and streamline the selection process. If you give staffers a single reference source on resident selection, they’re more likely to handle the process the way you require. And they won’t have to start from scratch each time they evaluate an application. For instance, the plan can tell them precisely what information to get from applicants and specify the valid reasons for rejecting an applicant.
But perhaps most important, a well-written resident selection plan can reduce your risk of discrimination lawsuits. If your staff follows the policies and procedures spelled out in the plan, they’ll handle applications uniformly and reject applicants only for acceptable reasons. Then, if rejected applicants claim that you treated them unfairly, you can use the written plan to show that you handled their applications appropriately.
INCLUDE NINE REQUIRED TOPICS
HUD Handbook 4350.3 spells out the topics you must include in your written resident selection plan to ensure you select applicants in accordance with HUD requirements and your own established management policies. Make sure your plan includes the following topics.
Detail the basic eligibility requirements that applicants must meet to qualify for the program under which your site operates, such as Section 8 or Section 236, and the specific eligibility requirements for your site, such as age or disability requirements. Be sure to include the following:
Income limits. Specify the income limits that apply to your site (that is, low, very low, and extremely low income). You don’t have to give the actual dollar income levels for each household size, says HUD. But you must at least specify the applicable limits as a percentage of area median income (for example, for an applicant household to qualify as very low income, its annual income may not exceed 50 percent of area median income adjusted for household size) [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4 (C)(2)].
Site-specific requirements. Specify whether your site is designated for a special population, such as the elderly or disabled [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4 (C)(1)(a)].
Citizenship/immigration status requirements. Describe HUD’s restrictions on housing assistance to noncitizens and the procedures for verifying immigration status (and citizenship, if you choose also to verify the status of applicants who claim to be U.S. citizens). Also, spell out the procedures for temporary deferral of termination of assistance in cases where applicants can’t prove or you can’t verify their eligibility [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4 (C)(1)(b)].
Social Security number (SSN) requirements. Describe HUD’s requirements for disclosing and providing verification of SSNs [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4 (C)(1)(c)].
Procedures for Taking Applications and Selecting Applicants
Your plan must specify how you’ll take applications, rank applicants on the waiting list, and screen applications for admission [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4 (C)(3)].
Taking applications. Spell out your policy for accepting applications (and pre-applications if you use them). Say that you’ll take an application from anyone who wants to submit one, unless your waiting list is closed. Your plan should also say that you’ll interview every applicant, as HUD requires. And it should include a list of the topics you’ll cover during interviews. You can read the list of topics you must cover in paragraph 4-24 of HUD Handbook 4350.3.
Preferences. The plan must define each preference adopted for use at the site and any rating, ranking, or combining of the preferences the owner has established that will affect the order in which applicants are selected from the waiting list. The plan should also describe the acceptable sources of information to verify the qualification for preferences [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4 (C)(3)(b)].
State and local preferences. HUD says you must also apply any state and local preferences, but you must get HUD approval first. Check with your attorney or local HUD office to see whether any state or local preferences apply to your site. If so, include them in your plan [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4 (C)(3)(b)].
Income-targeting. For Section 8 properties only, include a description of HUD’s income-targeting requirement in your resident selection plan. The plan must describe the procedures used by the owner to meet the income-targeting requirements, if applicable. This description must explain how and when applicants will be “skipped over” in favor of housing an extremely low-income household and how their applications will be treated when they are skipped.
To comply with HUD’s income-targeting requirement, you may need to skip over higher-income applicants in favor of applicants with incomes that are 30 percent or less of median income. Make clear how and when you’ll skip over higher-income applicants in favor of extremely low-income applicants and how you’ll treat their applications after you skip them [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4 (C)(3)(c)].
Applicant screening criteria. The plan must describe the site’s standards used to screen for information on drug-related or criminal activity (including registration as a sex offender) and use of the EIV Existing Tenant Search, as well as the other screening activities implemented by the owner [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4 (C)(3)(d)].
It’s up to you to come up with other screening criteria for your site. The Handbook includes a list of criteria you should consider using—and a list of criteria you can’t use [Handbook 4350.3, pars. 4-7 and 4-8]. For example, you can visit an applicant’s current home to check on his or her housekeeping habits. But you can’t require an applicant to undergo a physical exam.
For each criterion you use, you must specify in the plan how you’ll evaluate information to decide whether to reject an applicant. Be as specific as possible so your staff has uniform standards to apply. For instance, if your policy is to contact former owners, specify how many instances of nonpayment of rent or other lease violations will be grounds for rejection and how far back in time you’ll look.
Some sites use a more complicated method for “scoring” screening results. At these sites, flunking one criterion may not be grounds for rejecting applicants outright. If you use such a method, be sure the plan specifies the weight you’ll give to each criterion and how you’ll determine when to reject an applicant
Reasons for Rejecting Ineligible Applicants
The plan must describe the circumstances under which the owner may reject an applicant for occupancy or assistance. If the owner establishes a policy to consider extenuating circumstances in cases when applicants would normally be rejected but have circumstances that indicate the family might be an acceptable future tenant, such a policy must also be described in the plan [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4 (C)(3)(e)].
HUD says you may reject an applicant if:
- The household doesn’t meet your site’s income or other eligibility requirements (such as age or disability);
- The applicant is unable to disclose and document SSNs of all household members, except for those members who don’t contend eligible immigration status or tenants who were 62 or older on Jan. 31, 2010, whose initial determination of eligibility was begun before Jan. 31, 2010;
- Household members don’t sign and submit required verification consent forms or the Authorization for Release of Information (forms HUD-9887 and HUD-9887-A);
- The household has characteristics that aren’t appropriate for the specific type of unit available at the time or isn’t an appropriate size for the units that are available. In these cases, you may deny the applicant admission to a specific unit, but you must allow the applicant to wait for another unit;
- The household includes members who didn’t declare citizenship or noncitizenship status, or sign a statement electing not to contend noncitizen status (see paragraph 4-31 of the Handbook). HUD says in these cases you should let applicants revise their applications to exclude proposed members who don’t meet these requirements; or
- The applicant doesn’t meet your site’s screening criteria [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-9(B)].
Specify the occupancy standards for determining appropriate unit size (for example, no fewer than two and no more than five people in a two-bedroom), and the procedures to place families on the waiting lists for more than one unit size. It’s up to you to define your own occupancy standards. You can get more information about developing these standards in paragraph 3-23 of the Handbook.
Unit Transfer Policies
HUD says your plan should include the procedures for granting existing residents’ requests to transfer to another unit for any of the following reasons:
- Changes in household size or composition;
- Need for a deeper subsidy (Rent Supplement, RAP, or Section 8 assistance) covered by another unit;
- Medical reason certified by a doctor; or
- Need for an accessible unit [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4(C)(5)].
Assisted sites are governed by several federal laws that bar discrimination. These laws require you to have nondiscrimination goals that detail your commitment not to discriminate against applicants and residents. Your plan should specify these goals [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4 (C)(6)].
Policy on Opening and Closing Waiting Lists
Describe when you’ll open and close the waiting list, and specify the marketing and advertising methods you’ll use to announce the opening and closing of the waiting list [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4(C)(7)]. You may close your waiting list only if it would be at least a year before a unit becomes available for a new applicant [Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-16(B)(1)(a)].
Eligibility of Students
The plan must include the requirements for determining eligibility of students enrolled at an institution of higher education [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4(C)(8)].
VAWA Protections (Section 8 program only)
The plan, as well as House Rules where applicable, must include policies and procedures covering the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) protections. Owner policies must support or assist victims of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking and protect victims, as well as members of their family, from being denied housing or from losing their HUD-assisted housing as a consequence of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 4-4(C)(9)]. Here are some of the broad requirements to include in the plan:
- Owners must provide notice to Section 8 tenants of their rights and obligations under VAWA.
- Owners must provide tenants the option to complete the Certification of Domestic Violence, Dating Violence or Stalking, form HUD-91066, or, in lieu of the certification form or in addition to it, owners may accept a federal, state, tribal, territorial, or local police record or court record, or documentation signed by an employee, agent, volunteer of a victim service provider, an attorney, or medical professional from whom the victim has sought assistance in addressing domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking, or the effects of the abuse.
- Owners are not required to demand that an individual produce official documentation or physical proof of her status as a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking in order to receive the protections of the VAWA. Owners, at their discretion, may provide assistance to an individual based solely upon the individual’s statement or other corroborating evidence.
- Owners must have tenants sign the VAWA lease addendum, form HUD-91067.