Responding to criticism from the HUD Office of the Inspector General issued in early 2015, HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing released a new notice, PIH-2015-12, “Administering the Community Service and Self-Sufficiency Requirement (CSSR)” which clarifies exemptions under the community service requirements.
The notice covers statutory and regulatory requirements for administering the CSSR, data collection and reporting requirements, actions to take against non-compliant tenants, and penalties and sanctions against PHAs that house ineligible households.
The Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998 established a CSSR mandating that every adult resident of public housing must complete eight hours of community service or participate in an economic self-sufficiency program each month, with some exemptions allowed. The HUD OIG report audited HUD’s monitoring of the CSSR to determine how many of HUD’s subsidized units were occupied by noncompliant tenants.
To fulfill the CSSR, residents may volunteer their time at local non-profit service organizations, other organizations that benefit PHA residents and their children, or even within a public housing property to improve the grounds or serve on a Resident Advisory Board. Residents may also engage in self-sufficiency activities like job readiness training, higher education, apprenticeships, financial/credit/budget counseling, or ESL classes. Eligible activities are not limited to those listed above and HUD gives PHAs flexibility to determine appropriate activities for their residents.
Public housing residents can also claim an exemption under several criteria – including being 62 years or older, blind or disabled, engaged in work activities, participation in a state welfare program or receiving assistance or benefits under a state program funded by the Social Security Act.
The OIG’s report found that up to 106,000 units were occupied by noncompliant tenants, either through a failure to complete the requirements by tenants or by PHAs mislabeling tenants as exempt who were actually eligible. The report focused on tenants who are disabled, receiving SNAP benefits, or engaged in work activities as those who the OIG believed incorrectly received exemptions.
The OIG’s report concluded that residents receiving SNAP benefits are required to do community service. But HUD’s notice clarifies that SNAP beneficiaries, or residents who are members of a family where at least one member is receiving SNAP benefits, are in fact covered under the welfare exemption and not subject to community service requirements.
Additionally, OIG reported that not all workers receiving wages should be exempt because HUD’s regulations use a 30 hour per week minimum when determining acceptable work activities. The notice, again in contrast, clarifies that the community service regulations only suggest, not require, that PHAs use 30 hours per week as the baseline, and gives PHAs authority to determine their own exemption policies.