The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been failing for decades, but its recent incarnation under the guidance of Dr. Ben Carson’s magical hand may be its lowest point. A new, in-depth report from ProPublica 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.
Unsurprisingly, some of the horrors of public housing are the result of privatization. One St. Louis Housing Authority building, controlled by a private management company, was sued by the Missouri Attorney General in August. The case alleges that the management company violated consumer protection laws “by advertising that the development was habitable even though it was plagued by a pest infestation, black mold and water damage.” The property passed its most recent HUD inspection.
HUD 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.
HUD’s failures haven’t gone totally unnoticed, according to ProPublica.
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, said Sara Pratt, a former senior HUD official who worked at the agency under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
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, “We just shake our heads sometimes.”
“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.”
Generations of budget cuts have helped bring HUD to this point.
HUD survived the 1990s, but not before Congress cut a quarter of its annual budget and ordered a massive downsizing. The agency’s workforce has been reduced by more than half since the mid-1980s, from roughly 17,000 to about 8,000.
Who created this brilliant inspection in the first place? None other than 1997 HUD Secretary Andrew “Amazon” Cuomo, who defended the system to ProPublica, though he added that 20 years later it should probably be reevaluated.
Read the rest of the story over at ProPublica.