How to avoid an uncertified disaster
5/12/2017 8:18:54 AM

By Wendy Fitzhugh, Senior Affordable Housing Associate

If you've ever wondered what NCHM certification is worth, I’ve got a story for you.

Recently a very small non-profit affordable housing agency lost its property manager. The organization housed 100 formerly homeless individuals and each unit had either a project-based Section 8 voucher or a City Rental Assistance Voucher. On top of that, the buildings were financed with Low Income Housing Tax Credits and used other layers of funding as well. The position required someone with a comprehensive understanding of affordable housing.

The company found a candidate who seemed to fit the bill: she was intelligent and compassionate, and had worked in the affordable housing field for years. Most importantly, she was a Certified Occupancy Specialist and a Tax Credit Specialist.

Or so she said.

She was hired quickly and spent a day training with the previous property manager. She claimed to understand exactly what was going on with the property.

Over the next few months, the new property manager appeared to be extremely independent and busy. She worked odd hours and was often away at different sites.

Still, the director felt something was off. He hadn’t seen many people coming in for their annual recertifications lately, and whenever he asked the property manager what she was up to, she said she was very busy managing the inspection side of things.

Three months later, the director asked a former colleague to stop by the office and make sure things were running as smoothly as her property manager claimed.

The property manager was fired the next day.

As it turned out, the property manager had never processed a recertification during the three months she was employed. There were no reminder notices in the files; the residents knew it was time to recertify and were curious why no one had contacted them. Five units were in abatement for failed inspections. Several important city licenses had not been granted to the organization for failure to comply. The city was considering terminating the organization’s subsidy contract altogether.

Large financial losses resulted from the property manager's negligence. The small non-profit was going to miss out on over $5,000 in subsidy payments due to the abatements. The company was going to be responsible for any subsidy differential that might arise as a result of recertification processing. Many residents were not given proper notice of their upcoming recertification. The company was forced to pay $500 in late fees on its licensing requirements. As a non-profit that relies on the Notification of Funding Availability’s ranking system for its funding, its chance of surviving any potential budget cuts dropped dramatically due to its reputation alone. Most importantly, many residents were at risk of returning to homelessness.

I asked the Director if he had checked the property manager’s credentials against NCHM's National Registry, which lists those with active NCHM certification. The Director did not know about the National Registry and, when he ran the search, the property manager did not come up.

I also told the director about a simple way to vet candidates for housing management jobs: NCHM’s Housing Management Aptitude Test. HMAT is an online, multiple-choice test that reliably measures a candidate's job-specific knowledge. There's no way to fake it on the HMAT, and results are available instantly.

I’m happy to report that the director ended up hiring a verified COS/TCS who passed the HMAT with flying colors.

Hopefully this cautionary tale demonstrates how important it is to thoroughly screen job candidates and their professional qualifications. To that end, NCHM's online National Registry and its growing suite of pre-employment screening tools offer employers peace of mind. Not everyone knows that NCHM was created by HUD for the express purpose of professionalizing our industry, but 45 years later we're still fulfilling that mission.

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