HUD Has Given Passing Inspection Grades for Years to Buildings Filled With Toxic Mold
Thousands of Americans are living in dangerous conditions as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) continues to give passing inspection grades to buildings filled with toxic mold and peeling lead-based paint. The system for inspecting federally subsidized properties is failing low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities and undermining the agency’s oversight, a new ProPublica report found.
Apartment complexes subsidized by HUD collectively house more than 2 million low-income families around the country. Some are run by public housing authorities and others are owned by private for-profit or nonprofit landlords. By law, the owners of such complexes must pass inspections demonstrating they are decent, safe, and sanitary in exchange for millions of dollars in federal money each year.
However, the new report portrays HUD as grossly negligent and incompetent, with many residents in public housing living in buildings with infestations, crime, and dangerous living conditions. And yet, HUD regularly approves these properties in their inspections.
As thousands of renters across the country have discovered, passing scores on HUD inspections often don’t match the reality of renters’ living conditions. The two-decade-old inspection system — the federal housing agency’s primary oversight tool — is failing low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities and undermining the agency’s oversight of billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded rental subsidies.
HUD – completely busy by “creating strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all,” as the information on its Twitter account says – has given passing inspection grades for years to dangerous buildings filled with rats and roaches, toxic mold, and peeling lead-based paint, which can cause lifelong learning delays when ingested by young children. The same goes for buildings where people with disabilities have been stranded in high-rise apartments without working elevators, or where raw sewage backs up into bathtubs and utility drains. The agency has passed buildings where ceilings are caving in and the heat won’t kick on in frigid winter months as old boiler systems give out.
“It’s not safe to live in,” said Rondesha Brooks, 28, fearing for the health of her 12-year-old daughter who has asthma. The mold in her house started in the basement, spreading later to every corner of Brooks’ government-subsidized apartment, covering the walls of the living room, the back of the couch, and even her daughter’s shoes.
A federal housing inspection confirmed living conditions were abysmal — not just in Brooks’ home, but throughout the 52-unit Section 8 development known as the Infill Apartments. The property scored only 27 points out of 100, far below the 60 points needed to pass the mandatory health and safety inspection. However, more than nine months after the inspection, nothing has changed.
“I have no control over it, and talking about it to the people in charge — it’s useless,” said Erica Pierre, 31, a single mother whose 9-year-old daughter’s asthma was triggered by mold and mice in their Infill apartment. “If I could leave, I would.”
Senator you failed to address this issue and serious water contamination Upstate for years. Shame on you now to make this political when your constituents needed your help. Your hypocracy has not bounds.— Donald Kasprzak (@donald_kasprzak) November 20, 2018
“We just shake our heads sometimes,” Kate Walz, Director of Housing Justice with the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, a social justice and legal advocacy organization based in Chicago, said.
“Some owners fail an inspection and they have a great building, and some owners pass it, and they have just a horrible building,” she added. “We’re running up against this all the time.”
Sara Pratt, a former senior HUD official who worked at the agency under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, said HUD’s inspection system “is pretty much a failure,” and the agency’s staffing levels after years of budget cuts are “wholly inadequate” to assess properties.
According to an April report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, nearly one in five of the nation’s 43 million renters spend more than half of their income on housing. Those who live in deep poverty prefer to endure their conditions rather than complain and risk eviction and homelessness.
That’s why it’s critical that HUD ensures the safety and stability of government-funded housing units set aside for low-income families, housing advocates say. It’s a difficult charge given that the vast majority of these apartments are decades old, and many of them have gone without routine maintenance for years.
The current HUD Secretary Ben Carson has repeatedly said he joined the Trump administration to fix the “rats, roaches, bed bugs, mold, lead and violence” that he witnessed as a surgeon in low-income communities. Meanwhile, under the Trump administration, the situation has become even worse.
According to an NBC News investigation, more than 1,000 out of HUD’s nearly 28,000 federally subsidized multi-family properties failed their most recent inspection. The failure rate is now more than 30% higher than in 2016, according to an analysis of HUD records.
Carson told the Daily Caller News Foundation that previous HUD secretaries have mostly been “applying Band-Aids instead of treating the wound.”
“We are in discussions with our Acting Inspector General to address this problem. These families deserve an all-hands-on-deck approach across local, state, and federal government,” Carson added.
“We need Congress to eliminate the cap on RAD so we can expand this effort. We need support from all PHAs so we can work seamlessly to meet the needs of our fellow Americans, and we need the Senate to finally confirm our Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing.”