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Ease HUD rules, officials urge

Small housing agencies overburdened, state leaders say September 9, 2016 at 2:46 a.m.

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Public housing leaders across the state are mounting an effort to shed some regulations and reporting requirements placed on them by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

On Thursday, the Arkansas chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials gathered in part to send letters to members of Congress in support of the association's Small Housing Authority Reform Proposal. The HUD regulations have accrued over time.

"I'm finishing my 13th year with housing, and in that time there's been 13 years of [regulatory] changes -- nothing is ever the same, there's always a new regulation," said David Lange, president of the national housing association and executive director of the Paragould Housing Authority. "They don't take away regulations, they just give you new ones."

The proposal would apply to small housing authorities, defined as those with 550 or fewer combined public housing units and housing vouchers. Nationwide, approximately 3,300 agencies would fall into this category -- a large concentration of which are in Southern states. These small public housing authorities make up 80 percent of all agencies nationwide, yet oversee 20 percent of the nation's public housing stock and receive 10 percent of HUD's budget for housing vouchers, according to the association's figures.

In Arkansas, approximately 100 of the 130 housing authorities would be affected by the proposed legislation. Often, these housing authorities have only a few full-time employees.

As written, the proposed legislation would reform HUD's oversight and monitoring process and reduce administrative chores the federal regulations place on the small organizations. Despite their relatively small share of the public housing stock and HUD budget, small agencies are subject to the same regulations, oversights, and monitoring as larger agencies.

Local critics of this arrangement say that this one-size-fits-all approach does not consider the limited resources of the small agencies.

"Small housing authorities have limited budgets and limited staff capacity, yet these smaller housing authorities are required to do more with less," Arkansas housing officials wrote in a letter to members of Congress. "Diminished resources combined with over-regulation will further limit our ability to meet the needs of currently assisted families and -- more significantly -- those in need who have yet to be served."

Barbara Suber runs the Monette Housing Authority with one full-time employee to manage 90 residents in 48 units. Her work consists of everything from repairing toilets to reporting her residents' community service hours.

"It's just so burdensome for us," Suber said. "We really need to be out there inspecting our apartments or something besides just paperwork," she said.

And Kenny Gober, who manages several small public housing and Section 8 agencies in Desha and Chicot counties, spends a number of days of each month fulfilling regulators' requirements.

"[The reform proposal] would do more for our agencies than anything else that's been proposed lately," Gober said.

The proposed legislation has become one of the top legislative priorities for the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials -- an advocacy group that represents more than 80 percent of the nation's public housing agencies. Ten U.S. senators, including Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman, both Republicans from Arkansas, are sponsors.

With versions first proposed in 2008, the bill has gained more traction this session than in previous years, according to housing officials.

"Many Arkansans rely on these agencies and we need to make sure they are as efficient and effective as possible. It's clear that one-size-fits-all policies do not work well in every community," Boozman said in a statement. "Small and rural housing authorities face different challenges than large housing authorities in some of our nation's largest cities. Reducing the paperwork burden for small housing agencies and streamlining compliance and inspection requirements will better allow these organizations to serve our state."

Metro on 09/09/2016

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