House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Infrastructure Holds Hearing on PHA Oversight

The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Infrastructure held a hearing on May 22, “PHA Oversight: How Scandals and Mismanagement Harm Residents and Taxpayers.” The hearing focused on ways HUD can improve its oversight of public housing agencies (PHAs) to ensure PHAs are providing “decent, safe, and sanitary” housing for residents.  

Witnesses for the hearing included: Bill Slover, former board chair for the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA); Matt Doherty, former executive director of the Atlantic City Housing Authority (ACHA); and Georgi Banna, general counsel and director of strategic initiatives at the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO).  

The nation’s 3,300 PHAs are responsible for administering 2.3 million Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) and approximately 900,000 public housing units. HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) is responsible for overseeing PHAs. While law requires PHAs to maintain units and ensure residents are living in “decent, safe, and sanitary” housing, decades of Congress’s underfunding HUD’s programs – and in some cases, severe mismanagement by PHAs – has led to an estimated public housing capital needs backlog of more than $90 billion, and for some properties, unsafe and unsanitary living conditions that threaten residents’ health.  

“Federal law requires Public Housing Authorities to provide ‘decent, safe, and sanitary housing,’” said Subcommittee Chair Warren Davidson (R-OH) in his opening statement, “but instead of successes, too often we get horrible stories about incompetence, mismanagement, and overt criminal fraud.” Chair Davidson noted recent examples from large PHAs – including ACHA, DCHA, and the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) – where residents and PHA leadership raised concerns about unsatisfactory living conditions that were largely ignored by HUD. Both Mr. Slover and Mr. Doherty were fired from their positions, alleged retaliation for repeatedly raising concerns with HUD.  

“I know [public housing] academically and experientially; I know what it means for a family to have access to housing that is safe, decent, and affordable,” said Subcommittee Ranking Member Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), reflecting on his experience growing up in public housing. “Public housing has helped stabilize millions of families – including mine – who would otherwise lack access to affordable housing or be forced into homelessness. In the face of an affordable housing crisis, is it is more important than ever that we preserve public housing programs…1.2% of Public Housing Authorities are ‘troubled,’ and while there are high-profile cases, for the average resident of public housing it is the chronic underfunding of public housing that is having the largest impact on their lives.”  

Mr. Slover and Mr. Doherty relayed to the subcommittee their experiences leading DCHA and ACHA and attempting to address issues with program operations and building maintenance. In his opening statement, Mr. Slover stated DCHA requires “fundamental changes” to improve housing affordability and ensure “every DC resident [has] a safe place to call home…  including the need for greater accountability for results, tighter controls over financial management, better negotiations with outside developers, and improved execution of property management so residents could have adequate and safe living spaces.” However, Mr. Slover was removed from his position leading DCHA within six months, and “none of the reform efforts initiated took root…HUD never once, to my knowledge, took any interest in DCHA’s day-to-day operations during that time.”  

Mr. Doherty shared similar experiences during his time as executive director of ACHA, a position from which he was removed after four months for exposing rampant mismanagement that “has grievously impacted the lives of the most economically vulnerable Americans.” Mr. Doherty noted that, “given the urgent needs of the [ACHA] residents, who are suffering under the current management, I strongly recommend that HUD immediately assume control of the board and management of the authority.”  

Despite concerns with the operation of certain PHAs, witnesses and committee members recognized the vital importance of housing assistance and the role PHAs play in administering assistance. “I do not want to demonize all public housing,” said Committee Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA). “As [the witnesses] have said, the larger percentage [of PHAs] are operating successfully; it’s only about five percent that have these problems. We should work on correcting them, but not on demonizing them.”  

Mr. Banna noted that in 2023, 82% of PHAs received a high or standard evaluation from HUD, and only 4% received the lowest designation of “troubled.” Moreover, Congress has consistently underfunded PHAs and other HUD programs for decades, making it difficult to keep up with the cost of maintenance. According to NAHRO’s analysis, the Capital Fund backlog for public housing has grown to more than $90 billion.  

“[Some housing authorities] are very, very well-run,” stated Representative Andrew Garbarino (R-NY), “but we also have some that have issues,” including NYCHA. Mr. Doherty agreed, noting that “well-run housing authorities far outnumber poorly run housing authorities, but housing authorities should be well run. It’s serving the most vulnerable population in this country, and it’s such a basic need to have decent, clean, healthy housing…there’s no reason a housing authority shouldn’t run well, no matter what the scale.”  

Watch a recording of the subcommittee hearing and review accompanying documents here.  

More information about public housing is on page 4-36 of NLIHC’s 2024 Advocates’ Guide