The REAC Impossible Newsletter
Volume 2, Number 5, August/September 2021
Head-Scratcher of the Month
Biden administration backing off on proposed safety rules for public housing

That’s the word in an NBC News article by Suzy Khimm, published July 14, 2021 (see here). The article points out that HUD has backed away from new health and safety requirements, and the Biden Administration may have backed away from NSPIRE altogether.

“The [NSPIRE] standards are part of a sweeping, years long overhaul that aims to strengthen HUD’s inspection system for federally subsidized housing, including traditional public housing, Section 8 rentals, and homes for older people with low incomes.” All HUD had to do was adopt the National Association of Home Inspectors (NACHI) commercial and home inspection standards which include inspecting fire extinguishers (see here).

Khimm wrote HUD has significantly expanded the number of life-threatening hazards (see here). For over 20 years REAC was satisfied with about a half dozen LT defects, CO detectors not among them, only now it believes residents will not be fully protected until the half dozen is expanded to about 30, including a damaged toilet in a one toilet unit, not inoperable, but damaged, and an “inadequate” handrailing. 

Fire extinguishers, bathroom ventilation and electrical outlets

Since last year, however, HUD has also eliminated or relaxed stricter proposed inspection standards in a number of key areas. For example, HUD originally proposed one fire extinguisher per floor (see here], calling it a life-threatening issue. The agency has since eliminated the requirement [see here].

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The National Association of Fire Protection fire extinguisher standard is an extinguisher on every floor. The NACHI standard is a portable fire extinguisher be within 75-feet of travel on every floor. But, according to REAC it is not a LT health and safety issue if there is no fire extinguisher on every floor, or within 75 feet. Just as it is not a LT health and safety issue to REAC if here is no CO detector anywhere in a building, let alone every floor.

“HUD similarly removed a proposed requirement for a minimum number of working electrical outlets [see here], that was included in the initial draft [see here]. A minimum outlet standard is required by many cities and states as part of their building codes to reduce the risk of electrical fires from overloaded outlets, and to minimize the use of extension cords.” The Khimm article does not point out that local codes require many outlets in new construction and renovations.
Housing is many times safer now than in the past. However serious defects exist which HUD does not inspect, for example, Aluminum wiring, Federal Pacific electrical panels, and knob and tube wiring. REAC has no health and safety standard for these LT defects, defects for which a home inspectors would jeopardize their license and put the resident at high risk of a fire if missed during an inspection. Simply put, HUD and REAC are not keeping it’s charges safe, or worse giving them a false sense of safety.

Per Khimm, REAC also loosened requirements for fans and windows in bathrooms [see here], critical to preventing mold, and ground fault circuit interrupters [GFCI] for outlets near water [see here], which are proven to reduce the risk of electrocution but are not always required by local authorities in older housing.

Leaving the bathroom door open is one mold prevention control measure, another is to take open a window, and whipping the moisture away after use yet another. 

There are about 200 electrocutions in the USA every year (see here) from missing and inoperable GFCIs. They are required in new construction. A device also required in new construction is an arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI). To prevent outlet fires local codes required them in bedrooms. Yet, Khimm made no mention of AFCIs. REAC does not require them, only that if present that they work properly (see here). Shouldn’t their absence be recorded as a LT health and safety defect in post-January 1, 2002 construction. In the late 1970s, GFCI protection became mandatory for outlets in bathrooms, but not for REAC.

Per Khimm, “HUD denied weakening protections for residents and said providing safe and sanitary housing is a top priority for the Biden administration.” That’s correct, by and large HUD has made it much tougher on properties to provide safe and sanitary housing. It’s not bec HUD does not use basic common sense. Instead, alongside inoperable/missing smoke detectors HUD wants to include inadequate handrails as a LT health and safety defect, and has no continuing educational requirements for inspectors, nor licensing, or independent national certification requirements. Heck, the 50 states require Cosmetologists to be licensed (see here).


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Property owners’ and advocates concerns

Khimm mentioned that housing industry groups had urged HUD to ease some of these requirements, saying they would be too burdensome. However, Michael Kane, executive director of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants, told NBC News it was surprising because we thought they were moving in a positive direction in a lot of ways.

My first thought in reading about Mr. Kane’s concerns was he ignoring health and safety concerns waiting for the Federal Government to tell him he needed to, e.g., install life-saving Carbon Monoxide detectors (see here), or did he not know he needed to comply with local fire departments’ requirements more stringent fire extinguisher.

Khimm: “The changes to the proposed standards follow an outcry from landlords, property managers, housing authorities and industry groups about the cost of complying with some of the new requirements, especially in older buildings, which could force landlords to make difficult choices.”

Further in Khimm’s article: “Still, both tenant advocates and housing providers have been broadly supportive of the overhaul, which began under the Trump administration and is considered long overdue [see here]. HUD relies on inspection standards and protocols that were created decades ago, using a system dating back to the 1970s for Section 8 housing and a system from the 1990s for public housing. For years, the federal inspection system has been under heavy scrutiny as low-income HUD residents [see here] have experienced toxic mold [see here], infestations, crumbling ceilings, broken heaters and deadly exposure to fire [see here], and carbon monoxide [see here] among other hazards.”

Per Khimm, some housing providers have raised concerns that some of the stricter requirements that HUD has been considering could deter private landlords from participating in programs like Section 8, which provides rental subsidies but limits the rent [see here] that landlords can charge. In recent years, thousands of landlords [see here] have left the program — and some have singled out [see here] burdensome inspections and administrative costs as major barriers.

Khimm reported that: “the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles wrote to HUD [see here] in March,” saying: “To hold older properties to the same standards of recent buildings is beyond unfair and it would be a financial burden. Some owners with older properties may decide not to participate if we are requiring significant upgrades to their units in order to pass inspection, upgrades that they are not required to perform if they rent to someone in the private market. This is very concerning, we are facing an extreme housing shortage in our city. Some of the proposed NSPIRE inspection standards are impractical and irresponsible.” Here is HACLAs Comment #3: 

24 CFR 982.402 states that:

“…The site and neighborhood must be reasonably free from disturbing noises and reverberations and other dangers to the health, safety, and general welfare of the occupants…” and

“ …The site and neighborhood may not be subject to serious adverse environmental conditions, natural or manmade, such as dangerous walks or steps; instability…”

“Based on this requirement Form HUD HUD-52580A, Inspection Form, under Section 8, General Health and Safety, requires PHA Inspector to grade item below (pass, fail or inconclusive): 8.10 Site and Neighborhood Conditions Are the site and immediate neighborhood free from conditions which would seriously and continuously endanger the health or safety of the residents?”

“It is impractical and irresponsible to hold the property owners accountable for the presence of noise, traffic, excessive collection of trash, areas/locations outside the property boundary or control. In addition, inspecting the surrounding neighborhood is not consistent with NSPIRE’s inspectable locations (unit, inside, outside) and should be excluded from the regulations.”

REAC and NSPIRE’s future

September 28, 2021, HUD announced on it’s website that it extended the NSPIRE Demonstration through April 30, 2023 (see here). The site’s link to “Read the official notice on the Federal Register” has been taken down. Has the Biden Administration defunded NSPIRE, a program fully funded by the former administration. 

“HUD will continue to make updates to the standards as necessary before their final publication,” Ashley Sheriff, acting deputy assistant secretary for HUD's Real Estate Assessment Center, said in a statement to Khimm. She added the agency would be guided by input from thousands of demonstration inspections as well as “substantial additional dialogue with residents, property owners and agents, public housing agencies and other stakeholders.” Sheriff might want to include REAC consultants and the founder NACHI in its dialogue.

Feedback can be submitted [see here] on the latest draft of its standards. The next version is expected to be released in early 2022. 

It may be a waste of money and time attending a webinar or class on NSPIRE, a program that changes almost by the minute. The current system works fine and it is well understood by the community at large, just add CO detectors as an inspection item.

Any inspection program that mandates that it’s inspectors enter bed bug infected apartments, and does not include inspecting for the presence of CO detectors should not be in the inspection business. HUD inspects for inoperable sink stoppers, and missing window screens, and considers noise and damaged toilets LT health and safety defects. Let the cities and states inspect their housing units. Worked in the past just fine. Local housing authorities at least have a high priority inspection items on the books like inspecting for operating CO detectors, and fire extinguishers on every floor.
Hank Vanderbeek, MPA
Certified Master Inspector
REAC Property Consultant
Former Federal Office of Inspector General Forensic Auditor

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