Using HUD Funds to Protect Public Housing Residents Against Extreme Heat

With a heat dome intensifying over the northeastern United States this week, HUD recently announced new guidance on the use of HUD funding to help mitigate the impacts of extreme heat for nearly 1.6 million residents in public housing, especially for those most vulnerable residents. Although heat waves in mid-June are not unprecedented, the duration of this one suggests that this summer could be particularly brutal.

In a statement, HUD’s Acting Secretary Adrianne Todman said, “We must protect the health and safety of our families during increasingly severe weather events, like extreme heat, that can cause grave harm and even death to any member of our community. As we transition into the Summer months, the need for public housing residents to access necessary cooling systems is vital and we are assertively taking these steps in the fight against extreme heat.”

One level deeper: Extreme heat kills more people than any other weather-related hazard. In 2023, the world recorded the warmest year on record. Across the United States, heat records were broken, including Phoenix, experiencing 31 consecutive days above 110°F, and Chicago reaching a heat index of 120°F.

HUD says it’s prioritizing increasing awareness around current and future impacts of extreme heat on the communities and people it serves. HUD says it’s developing technical assistance resources focused on extreme heat, working on program policy updates, and coordinating with federal agency partners on extreme heat initiatives, including actively participating in the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS).

The bottom line: While HUD defines extreme heat as a period of high heat and humidity with temperatures above 90 degrees for a minimum of two to three days, HUD’s new guidance allows for even more local control by allowing Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) to define severe or extreme heat more broadly to support households in their communities.

The guidance to PHAs helps to clarify the steps PHAs can take immediately to reduce the threat of extreme heat for residents by providing families with relief during severe or extreme heat periods, to help them afford to cool their homes. These new options allow PHAs to increase utility allowances for residents or forgo surcharges for the use of cooling, so that residents can use air conditioning during periods of severe or extreme heat. PHAs can choose to provide relief to any family in public housing that requests it, for excess utilities charges due to severe or extreme heat. The new guidance helps PHAs respond rapidly to the threat of heat events and makes it easier for residents to request relief.