This article was produced in partnership with The Southern Illinoisan, a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network in 2018.
The federal government’s system of inspecting taxpayer-subsidized housing is fundamentally flawed, and leaders at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development haven’t taken adequate steps to fix it, according to a congressional watchdog report released Thursday.
The findings of the Government Accountability Office mirror those of an investigation by The Southern Illinoisan and ProPublica last year, which documented numerous cases in which substandard housing complexes received passing — and in some cases, glowing — scores from HUD. The news organizations built an online tool to allow users to look up the scores of taxpayer subsidized housing developments near them.
The GAO faulted HUD for failing to implement critical recommendations that senior staff made over two years ago to improve the agency’s inspection protocols, which are designed to protect low-income families living in federally subsidized housing and prevent landlords from gaming the system.
Those recommendations included changing the scoring system to place more emphasis on health and safety concerns facing tenants inside their units, shortening the time frame that property owners have to address emergency conditions identified during inspections, and creating a system to verify whether landlords are actually making promised repairs.
Emily Benfer, director of the Columbia Law School’s Health Justice Advocacy Clinic and a visiting law professor there, said the GAO report was a “call to action to HUD that they have to improve their administration and oversight of the conditions of their properties.”
About 2 million families live in apartments that are owned by local housing authorities or by private or nonprofit owners that enter into contracts with…