Recently I was privileged to join a group of national housing leaders on a special HUD Stakeholder Conference Call with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary Ben Carson and Assistant Secretary Brian Montgomery regarding HUD’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. All three men commended the housing industry for the work it is doing on the frontlines in providing quality housing to the most vulnerable in our society, a sentiment that we certainly share here at NCHM.
The Vice President reported on the latest from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, which he leads. In addition to giving an update on the latest situation with respect to the virus across the country and the federal response to it, the Vice President spoke at length about the specific efforts being undertaken at HUD. He noted that the Department has been allocated $12 billion through the CARES Act for a variety of immediate programmatic responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also touched on the home loan foreclosure moratorium and the 120-day eviction moratorium that was authorized by the Act and indicated that Secretary Carson has authority to take further action as necessary in this regard. Finally, the Vice President acknowledged the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on minority communities and reported that Dr. Carson has been asked by the President to head up a panel to investigate that situation.
Secretary Carson provided a general update on HUD’s efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. At the outset he emphasized that the Department remains committed to fair and equal access to housing and the ADA. Secretary Carson and Assistant Secretary Montgomery explained how HUD intends to use the funding provided to it under the CARES Act including allocating $5 billion to states and municipalities through the Community Development Block Grant program, $4 billion for emergency solutions, and more than $3 billion for various subsidy programs including vouchers, project-based assistance and public housing, and special efforts such as the purchase of PPE for use in federally-assisted housing communities and the expansion of service coordinators in senior housing.
The HUD Stakeholder Conference Call was just the latest in a series of constructive steps the Department has taken to respond proactively to the COVID-19 pandemic; steps that we think warrant special recognition.
For NCHM, such recognition is a bit of a departure as we have always been careful to neither praise nor criticize the Department, even though we were created by HUD at the direction of an Executive Order of the President of the United States. We have followed this policy over the 48 years of our existence because our mandate requires us to “provide objective, independent leadership…in helping meet the housing management and training needs” of the Nation and so we have always viewed ourselves as a professional partner of both the Department and the housing industry, rather than a cheerleader or critic. However, today, in the middle of one of the worst health crises to hit our Nation since its founding, we think it is appropriate to set aside our typical neutrality and give HUD credit for the way it has responded. In our view, HUD deserves kudos for the way in which it has provided timely information and guidance to the many state and local agencies, non-profit organizations, and private sector companies that deliver affordable housing resources across America.
At NCHM, we have been particularly impressed by the response of the two offices that most impact our world, the Office of Multifamily Housing Programs (MFH) and the Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH). Both offices initiated specific COVID-19 messaging to the field early on, March 13, 2020 to be precise, and both have followed up with additional information and guidance on a regular basis.
On March 13, 2020 the HUD Office of Multifamily Housing Programs issued Questions and Answers for Office of Multifamily Housing Stakeholders – Coronavirus (COVID-19). This document addressed a variety of questions in five broad areas: General Multifamily Housing, CARES Act resources, Asset Management, Recapitalization and RAD, and Multifamily Production. Over the course of the next month, MFH issued five revisions that updated and added to its guidance as new questions arose and as the Department advanced its own thinking in response to constantly changing circumstances.
Also, on March 13, 2020 the Office of Public and Indian Housing began messaging to its constituents with the issuing of an FAQ. This document was subsequently modified with the most recent (as of the writing of this article) occurring on March 30, 2020. On April 10, 2020 PIH issued Notice PIH 2020-05. The 63-page Notice provided details on statutory and regulatory waivers for the Public Housing, Housing Choice Voucher, Indian Housing Block Grant and Indian Community Development Block Grant programs and suspension of Public Housing Assessment System and Section Eight Management Assessment Program. These waivers are intended to provide public housing agencies and tribal agencies and housing entities with the flexibility needed to continue operations under the difficult conditions brought on by the pandemic.
We are also aware that other divisions and offices of HUD have taken similar measures to inform and be of assistance in their areas of responsibility.
We commend Secretary Carson, Assistant Secretary Montgomery, the Offices of Multifamily Housing and Public and Indian Housing, and the entire HUD team for delivering timely information, regulatory relief, the prudent use of CARES funding and the straightforward answers needed by the housing industry during these difficult times.