PHA Didn't Consider Relevant Circumstances When Terminating Benefits
Facts: An Illinois PHA terminated a resident’s housing assistance for violating a family obligation under the voucher program. The PHA tried to inspect her unit at two different times for an annual inspection. The resident wasn’t present for the two inspections, and the PHA terminated her voucher benefits.
The advance notice for the inspections stated that the resident “or a tenant-designated representative over 18 years of age” was required to be present at the inspection; the inspector would arrive “within one hour of the scheduled time”; and the failure to be present was a violation of the Code of Federal Regulations Section 982.551, and “will result in a termination notice.”
In response to terminating her assistance, the resident submitted an informal hearing request that indicated she had missed the initial inspection appointment due to a family emergency and had called for another appointment, and she had missed the second inspection due to her mother not hearing the door.
At the hearing, the resident stated that she didn’t know about the first inspection because she was having trouble receiving her mail. She acknowledged receiving the inspection notice for the second inspection. The resident had arranged to have her mother spend the night before the inspection at her unit so that her mother would be present for the 7:30 a.m. inspection. At that time in the morning, the resident had to take one of her children to the bus stop, take another child to school, and drive to work. She stated that her mother was at her unit at the time of the scheduled inspection but must not have heard that the inspectors at the door. A witness testified that the resident’s mother has had more than one stroke, was on several medications, and “would have answered if she heard.”
The hearing officer issued a written decision upholding the PHA’s decision to withdraw the resident from the Section 8 program. The resident asked the court to review the decision. The lower court sent the case back to the hearing officer with instructions “to weigh all mitigating factors that were presented, in particular the presence of children in the household,” citing sections of the PHA’s administrative plan. The hearing officer came to the same conclusion. The resident appealed.
Ruling: An Illinois appeals court reversed the decision.
Reasoning: According to the court, the PHA and the hearing officer automatically terminated the resident’s housing benefits without considering relevant circumstances. The court ruled that an automatic termination was clearly wrong. The termination of the resident’s benefits was permitted but certainly wasn’t mandated.
In this case, the hearing officer believed that she had no discretion but to terminate the resident’s housing assistance based on the language of the PHA’s administrative plan. The hearing officer acknowledged the resident had children and losing the housing voucher would place hardship on the family. According to HUD regulations, in determining whether to deny or terminate assistance because of action or failure to act by members of the family, the PHA may consider “all relevant circumstances” such as the seriousness of the case, the extent of participation or culpability of individual family members, mitigating circumstances related to the disability of a family member, and the effects of denial or termination of assistance on other family members who weren’t involved in the action or failure [24 C.F.R. § 982.552(c)(2)(ii)].
- Roland v. Peoria Housing Authority, December 2021