Secretary Shaun Donovan
Last night, ABC’s Nightline aired a report on the state of the nation’s public housing. In his story, reporter Brian Ross inaccurately and unfairly portrayed HUD’s oversight efforts. We know that years of underfunding by the prior administration has left our nation’s public and assisted housing stock under significant stress. For too long, housing authorities have had to manage their programs with major shortfalls in their capital and operating budgets.
The Obama Administration has made it a priority to preserve and protect this important resource. And, after reinvesting in these programs and proposing new initiatives like Choice Neighborhoods and Transforming Rental Assistance, we are making significant progress toward that goal. Nightline failed to mention the changes we’ve made and mischaracterized the hard work that HUD staff does everyday to fund and provide oversight to nearly 3,200 public housing agencies, and to serve the millions of American families who depend on public and assisted housing.
Nightline referenced unacceptable behavior by a few local housing authority employees and showed scenes of deplorable living conditions. They didn’t tell you what HUD has done to address them. The real questions are: what do we do when those problems arise, how do we intervene, how do we make it right, and how do we work with our partners at the local level to ensure that quality housing is delivered to the people who need it?
In Philadelphia, for example, once HUD learned of allegations of impropriety, we took swift action and unprecedented steps to set that housing authority back on a course to provide safe, quality, affordable housing in the community. In light of the recent developments involving the housing authority’s executive director, HUD sent a team to audit the agency on September 2nd. In November, the Philadelphia Housing Authority appointed Michael Kelly as the interim executive director, as HUD continues to audit the housing authority’s management and financial operations. We will continue aggressive oversight and monitoring in Philadelphia until we are certain that is the case.
As for the actions of former Housing Authority of New Orleans CFO Elias Castellanos, Nightline failed to mention that it was HUD’s program staff – led by Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing Sandi Henriquez – that called his actions to the Inspector General’s attention. Castellanos has since pled guilty and was sentenced to four years in federal prison, thanks to the swift action of HUD’s team.
As Assistant Secretary Henriquez said in the full, unedited version of her interview which you can watch here , HUD provides essential services to 4.5 million households who need – and deserve – affordable housing and economic opportunity.
The truth is that even with these enormous renovation and management challenges, the vast majority of nearly 3,200 public housing authorities across the U.S. do an incredible job of maintaining the nation’s 1.2 million public housing units for low-income Americans. Of the approximately 3,200 public housing authorities across the U.S., at any given time approximately 150-200 – only about 4% — are deemed “troubled.” And when that happens, HUD staff in our field offices work quickly and directly with the agency to identify the problem areas and provide guidance to management and/or local management to make corrections.
Early last year, I was proud to announce that nearly all 3,200 housing authorities were able to quickly put $4 billion through the Obama Administration’s Recovery Act to work, making significant capital improvements to tens of thousands of public housing apartments nationwide; creating jobs, growing local economies, and providing better housing for those who need it. Today there are more than 300,000 affordable homes that have been renovated using funds from the Recovery Act.
But even with that success, we were only able to meet a fifth of the estimated capital backlog in public housing properties.
That is why I believe – and the Obama Administration believes — that time is right for a national conversation on how best to design and implement a 21st century solution for the nation’s public housing system. HUD has made our proposal, called Transforming Rental Assistance, and members of congress have proposed legislation too. Over the coming months, we will continue to work with housing stakeholders and elected officials to promote a comprehensive strategy to preserve and enhance the country’s affordable housing stock. Because, without a long-term strategy, we will continue to lose thousands of quality, affordable homes each year – at the expense of the households depending on them.
And that is what Nightline and Brian Ross didn’t tell you. We need Congress to pass legislation to help us implement that long-term strategy to preserve and enhance our affordable housing stock and to adequately house our nation’s most vulnerable families.