HUD to Resume UPCS Inspections
In an August 7, 2020 Press release, Ben Carson announced Real Estate Assessment Center (REAC) inspections of HUD multifamily and public housing properties will resume on September 21, 2020, but under strict safety protocols during the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is not enough that residents are terrified for their health and safety especially in big cities, and landlords are going through hell trying to maintain a semblance of calm, but that REAC just has to get into those apartments as soon as possible because “lives are at risk”! They sure are, under COVID-19, especially in seniors’ apartments, and with the political unrest blanketing the country’s biggest cities! Let us not forget what happened with the Governor of New York and nursing homes and the Massachusetts old Soldiers Home. And the spread of disease and fear will be exacerbated by allowing asymptomatic REAC inspectors stomp around in apartments spreading COVID like they are allowed to do for bed bugs.
If REAC was concerned about residents’ safety it would back off and not make it worse with inspections; inspections that identify “health and safety “ defects, like inoperable sink stoppers and holes in screen door screens. Will someone please stand up and tell REAC they are not needed nor wanted. States can police their own housing stock; just like they can get fire trucks to fires, DPW to burst water lines, and trash to the dump. Or, should the Feds take over those functions as well. Keeping silent may allow that to happen too. Because the more control (more government) the better one particular political party likes it.
REAC inspections were paused due to the Coronavirus outbreak last March. Secretary Carson has been led by REAC to believe that REAC inspections is a critical function. “As we continue to fight this invisible enemy and learn more about the safety precautions needed to keep our HUD residents and staff safe, we are able to bring back critical functions of the Department,” (Secretary Carson). If the REAC inspection function is so critical, why was it deemed a non-essential service and discontinued. I wonder if REAC produced any data for Secretary Carson to support the need to restart. After all, under a Federalist or federal hands off approach why can’t the States oversee their properties, which they do their police, DPW, and fire departments. Thank Maine’s U.S. Senator Susan Collins for REAC.
Rather than fixing the State of Maine property oversight mismanagement function Senator Collins requested Federal oversight, thus REAC was born, and as we all know once created a government agency never goes away, it only grows and bloats, lies and obfuscates to convince funders of its “critical need”. Maine could have fixed its housing oversight problems. Mainers are hardy and not stupid people.
As it turns out, REAC is no better at safeguarding residents’ well-being than Maine was at the time REAC was created. To wit, countless deaths have occurred under REACs watch because, for example, REAC was not checking for Carbon Monoxide detectors, forcing REAC inspectors to inspect apartments with bed bugs, not checking for missing GFCIs or ungrounded & miswired electrical outlets, et cetera. Does Senator Collins know about all of this malfeasant oversight? I wonder if she has asked Maine’s property managers how they like the Federal Government nosing around their properties doing a worse job than her own State oversight agency could have done with a little better State-wide oversight.
Secretary Carson: “Physical inspections are vital in ensuring the health and safety of the Americans who reside in properties enrolled in HUD’s programs, and I am very pleased to announce today they are resuming”. Physical inspections are vital if you assume landlords are not capable of providing safe housing in good repair, or if oversight is needed for derelict landlords why can't the function be performed at the State level.
I am positive that James Madison, et al were thinking, well, I do believe that landlords cannot be trusted to provide safe housing, so we better make that an exception to the 10th Amendment in the Bill of Rights. Apparently Senator Collins believes the 10th Amendment meant that the Federal government should oversee the adequacy of the nations subsidized housing stock. Is not an indictment of Susan Collin’s distrust of Maine’s ability to manage housing. What other State functions does Senator Collins wish to cede to the United States Federal Government. If I were the Maine Governor or a State legislator I would consider it an insult that a U.S. Senator thinks so lowly of the State’s ability to assure its housing stock is safe and decent.
REACs COVID-19 Inspection Plan
REAC will prioritize inspections in states and localities based on the latest COVID-19 data from Johns Hopkins University, and health risk scoring methodology from the Harvard Global Health Institute. REAC has developed a heat map that categorizes states and localities into four color coded risk categories.
REAC will provide a listing on its website of low-risk counties 45 days prior to the start of physical inspections. At the end of the 45-day period, REAC will provide a 14-day notification to priority properties in that county to inform families that an inspection will take place.
The first outreach from inspectors to properties will start September 21, 2020. A comprehensive list of safe inspection locations, as well as an overview of the methodology used can be found on the website here. Inspectors will be prioritizing properties with historically low REAC scores (high-risk properties) in Low Risk (Green) localities. These locations will change over time, and HUD will adjust its inspection plans as needed. For additional information on HUD’s coronavirus response efforts, visit HUD.gov/coronavirus.
Seniors’ apartments should be OFF LIMIT! Ask Governor Cuomo about how not to manage the elderly sick. He learned by experience. Regardless, I would not trust him with peoples’ safety going forward with that kind of judgement. I do not trust REAC to keep residents safe either in view of its inspection protocols; for example, bed bugs, CO detectors, and electrical components.
And why the short 14 day notice? This is new in the 20 year long REAC inspection program. It took 20 years for REAC to figure out that properties have not been diligent in maintaining their stock in good safe condition year-round versus at inspection time. REACs solution is inspections without sufficient lead time to allow properties to prepare for an inspection. For 20 years REAC turned a blind eye to the fact that properties were not maintained year round. REAC is finally admitting it has mismanaged the inspection program since its inception. Why would Congress want to continue a program that did not do the job? Take note, State of Maine, that abdicated its housing oversight responsibilities to the Federal government.
Here is another reason for the 14 day rule: As properties learned the inspection rules property conditions improved based on higher inspection scores as they should have unless they were incapable of learning that the worse your property the more often REAC inspectors will be snooping around looking for a piece of litter, a weed on a fence, and a broken sink stopper. Rising scores, however, threatened REACs budget. Higher scores meant less inspections, thus less managers and inspectors needed. Job loss! Solution? Change the rules.
When properties scores improved, REAC quickly reworked the rules (without Congressional approval, I might add!), and admittedly denied more appealed inspections arbitrarily and capriciously. HUD knows that Congressional oversight is broken, so it ignores the laws without impunity.
REAC hides behind the law when it makes the newspapers for poor oversight. For example, REAC told the HUD Office of Inspector General it was inspecting for operating CO detectors, resulting in numerous deaths across the country as reported widely, because “COs were not required in law”. For 20 years REAC did not check for CO detectors because they were not in the Law! REAC, knowing it was not in the law, could have asked Congress to change the law. CO detectors were invented long before REAC. Not in the law was an excuse. Not in the law had not prevented REAC from adding countless other inspectable items. Senator Collins, check the REAC scores for Maine properties. Have they risen? If not, why? Is the reason incompetence in applying the REAC rules, or is it REAC moving inspection Standards goal posts so it can protect its empire.
Maine statutes include installing COs detectors in apartments, schools, etc. Seems Maine is better off without REAC if REAC’s lack of CO detector monitoring is any indication. Oh, lest I forget, REAC inspects apartments known bed bug infestation without safety protocols. REAC does not care about resident, staff, or inspector safety by forcing inspectors to inspect bed bug apartments, despite the CDC’s well documented danger of spreading bed bugs and contracting diseases. And we are to trust REAC to inspect safely under COVID -19 conditions!
The REAC director has been a revolving door for bungling bureaucrats. The average time in office is about two years. David Vargas, in his second stint as REAC Director, is an ACCOUNTANT. An accountant cannot effectively lead an agency whose primary function is commercial building inspections any better than a non-medical doctor can lead a hospital clinical department, unless Vargas’ ability to add and subtract is needed to track the number of apartments and building in the HUD subsidized housing portfolio, which I am sure is tracked elsewhere in HUD too (Let me know if I am correct). When I asked, a REAC employee told me that Vargas’ biggest contribution during his first stint as REAC Director was to cap the points deducted for a defective sprinkler head (from 18+ to 10). The reason for the change was pressure by the housing industry.
National home inspector organizations, like InterNACHI (International National Association of Certified Home Inspectors), are run by CEOs with extensive inspection experience. Any wonder REAC is at odds with generally accepted inspection standards and thus cannot assure residents are safe. REAC does not adhere to the most fundamental inspection standards, like inspecting for CO detectors, checking for ungrounded electrical outlets. Instead it focuses on a weed on a fence, a car tire rut, and myriad other picayune “defects”. And it is about to get even worse under NSPIRE.
Why aren’t the scores going up? Are properties incapable of learning from past mistakes? Or, is REAC just trying to save itself from the trash heap of failed government programs built on ill-conceived ideas, poor planning, and hysteria (Maine’s Senator Collins). Why does the whole country have to suffer because of one’s State’s poor housing management. New York Cities housing problems are not going to be fixed even under receivership. Year after year REAC points to systemic problems NYC already knows about, but cannot fix.
The elephant in the room is that REAC is not needed! If only stakeholders would be more vociferous, a la Black Lives Matter, maybe real change will come about, like remanding housing oversight back the States where it belongs instead of in the hands of a central planning agency that worries about senseless imperfections like chipped exterior wall bricks, and staying in business.
Experience and history tell us that bureaucracy will do whatever is needed to survive and expand. So expect an ever changing and increasingly tougher set of Inspection Standards, either with or without NSPIRE.
Folks, here is your chance to push REAC away and take back control over your housing stock, like BLM is doing about what it does not like about American government and our culture.
Hank Vanderbeek, MPA, CMI
REAC Property Consultants, LLC CEO