Informal reviews, hearings or grievances are important forms of tenant protection for Federal housing programs. Most importantly, these processes allow PHAs to resolve applicant or resident disputes without legal action and to correct any errors that might have occurred. Quadel Senior Program and Policy Advisor, Jessica Porter, discusses best practices to keep the informal review, hearing and grievance processes compliant and efficient.
Keep the Process Consistent
Porter has worked with multiple PHAs to improve their programs and performance. PHAs who have issues in their informal review, hearing or grievance processes do so because the proper procedures are not being followed or communication is lacking. This can open the door to much more complex issues for the PHA, including claims of discrimination if an applicant or participant chooses to address the denial decision in a local court.
“It is easier if you start with the right preparation before you get to the informal hearing. There should be a process in place. If you are going to deny someone, you should have a template that housing specialists have to complete,” Porter said. “Templates can document the policies and regulations violated and record notices. This requires staff to document everything and make sure no steps were missed. Skipping steps is where people get in trouble.”
Porter also recommends PHAs put a check and balance system in place. This often involves supervisors reviewing completed templates and documents for proceedings to avoid one person considering mitigating circumstances and making assumptions.
Cite Policies and Regulations in Decisions
According to Porter, it is imperative to ensure an informal review, hearing or grievance action is completed with consistency and accuracy. PHA staff should be following and citing all PHA-specific policies and procedures along with HUD regulations.
“I insist people include what policy in the Administrative Plan, ACOP or similar policy document was violated or what HUD regulation was violated in the template and termination letter,” Porter said. “This way, families understand that this isn’t an arbitrary decision, but one that has a context of regulations that a PHA must follow.”
Additionally, Porter thinks it’s important to remind PHA leadership that they have the ability to review a hearing officer’s determination before it is sent to the family or individual involved. This is a vital step PHAs should take to ensure the process is conducted both fairly and accurately.
Ensure Hearing Officers Know Their Role
Depending on the size of a PHA and available resources, some PHAs will contract out the role of a hearing officer. For large agencies, sometimes former judges or attorneys will volunteer their services. While helpful if the services are offered for free, whoever is in the hearing officer role should understand what their responsibilities are – and what they are not.
“The biggest thing is getting your hearing officers trained. You want to make sure they understand where their boundaries are and how to ensure that the informal hearing isn’t a courtroom. Hearing officers should listen impartially and be a mediator,” Porter said. “You don’t want hearing officers to make any assumptions. Their only job is to apply the policies fairly and consistently.”
Read the HUD Informal Reviews and Hearings regulations in full here.
If you are interested in having a hearing officer training session or learning more information about Quadel’s hearing officer training, contact Nick Murphy, Training Manager, for a quote.