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HOTMA Final Rule - Impact on the HOME Program

The Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) has released a Final Rule implementing the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act of 2016 (HOTMA). This final rule was published in the Federal Register on February 14, 2023. With the exception of changes relating to Non-Public Housing Over Income families (which take effect on March 16, 2023), this final rule takes effect on January 1, 2024.  The Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act (HOTMA) was signed into law on July 29, 2016, amending many aspects of Multifamily Housing programs (as well as programs administered through the Offices of Public and Indian Housing and Community Planning and Development). HOTMA was intended to streamline processes and reduce burdens on housing providers. On September 17, 2019, HUD issued a proposed rule to update its regulations according to HOTMA s statutory mandate. The final rule, published on January 9, 2023, considers public comment received on the proposed rule and provides additional guidance for implementing Sections 102, 103, and 104 of HOTMA. Which Programs will be Affected by the Final Rule?  The Section 8 PBRA (including RAD), Section 202/811 PRAC, 202/8, 202/162 PAC, Senior Preservation Rental Assistance Contract (SPRAC), and Section 811 Project Rental Assistance (811 PRA) programs will see changes due to HOTMA. This is the sixth in a series of articles I am writing on the sweeping changes that will be made to HUD affordable housing programs. This article will focus on the revised rules regarding the HOME Program. In the final rule, HUD clarifies that for the HOME Program, the definition of Live-in Aide, foster adult, foster child, full-time student, and net family assets will be the same as the meaning of these terms for the HUD multifamily housing programs. Use of Annual Income in the HOME Program Participating Jurisdictions (PJs) use the annual income of families to determine eligibility for: (1) occupancy of HOME-assisted rental units; (2) purchase of a homeownership unit; (3) receiving homebuyer downpayment assistance; and (4) obtaining rental assistance when there is tenant-based rental assistance (TBRA). The HOME regulations permit a PJ to use one of two definitions for annual income for each rental project or program assisted with HOME funds: (1) adjusted gross income in IRS Form 1040; or (2) annual income as defined in the HUD multifamily housing programs. In this final rule, HUD is requiring that PJs use the HUD multifamily definition of income whenever HOME funds are layered with funds of a program that is required to use the multifamily definition. Also, if a project has a State project-based rental subsidy, the PJ must use the subsidy provider s income determination under the rules of the State program. This final rule allows a PJ to accept a Federal TBRA provider s income determinations if the family is applying for or living in a HOME-assisted rental unit and the family is being assisted by a Federal TBRA program (e.g., Housing Choice Vouchers). Notice that the use of the PHA income determination is not required in this case -- it is permitted. However, a PJ must ensure that these units comply with HOME rent limitations. While PJs must enter into regulatory agreements with owners, developers, or sponsors of HOME-assisted rental housing, HUD is recommending that PJs also enter into agreements with PHAs, owners, or rental subsidy providers for Federal TBRA when income will be calculated in accordance with HOME rules and not the rules of the TBRA program. This may be necessary to ensure the project is able to meet the HOME rental occupancy requirements relating to fixed/floating and High/Low HOME units. If PHAs administering HCV and owners of projects with PBRA accept annual income determinations made by administrators of other Federally assisted programs (e.g., TANF or SNAP), the PJ must also accept those income determinations. Also, although the HOME program has no asset limitations, families that are participating in a program with asset limitations noted in the final rule may be denied assistance under that program. However, if such families are eligible based on the regulations of the HOME program, they may not be excluded from a HOME unit - even if they are denied Federal rental assistance. If the family has assistance terminated by the operator of the rental assistance program, the PJ must determine the family s income in accordance with HOME requirements. The final rule permits PJs to accept self-certification of assets for families with assets that do not exceed $50,000 without taking further steps to verify the accuracy of the declaration. Hardship Exemptions When Using Adjusted Income When PJs are required to calculate a family s adjusted income, the PJ may grant the financial hardship exemptions allowed by the final rule for public housing and multifamily housing programs. These are the hardship exemptions that relate to the threshold to receive health and medical care expenses as well as families that apply for a continued childcare expense deduction. To use this authority, the PJ must develop policies and procedures for qualifying and granting hardship exemptions. Source Documents No Longer Required in Year Six of the Affordability Period Current HOME rules require that family income be fully documented at move-in and then every sixth year of the project s affordability period. The final rule eliminates the requirement to review source documentation every sixth year of the affordability period. Bottom Line: While not extensive, the changes made to the HOME program by the final rule are substantive and both PJs and operators of HOME-assisted rental projects should familiarize themselves with these new rules -- keeping in mind that they do not go into effect until 2024.

A. J. Johnson Partners with Mid-Atlantic AHMA for April Training on Affordable Housing

During the month of April 2023, A. J. Johnson will be partnering with the MidAtlantic Affordable Housing Management Association for three training sessions intended for real estate professionals, particularly those in the affordable multifamily housing field. The three sessions will be presented via live webinars.  The following sessions will be presented: April 11: Affirmative Fair Housing Marketing Plans - Understanding the Requirements - The Fair Housing Act requires federal agencies to administer all programs and activities relating to housing and urban development in a manner that "affirmatively" furthers fair housing. This means that it is not enough to prevent segregation - the government must encourage "integration." Each owner who participates in HUD or Rural Development multifamily housing programs must develop and provide a description of the Affirmative Fair Housing Marketing Plan (AFHMP) for the property to comply with the requirements of the Law. A cornerstone of an AFHMP is the requirement to market a property to those "least likely to apply." This 1.5-hour course outlines the basic requirements of an AFHMP, including marketing strategies, the meaning of "least likely to apply," and updating the Plan. Completion of the course will assist managers in a full understanding of how to comply with HUD rules regarding these important plans. April 19: Compliance with Federal and State Fair Housing Requirements - This course will equip attendees with the knowledge and understanding needed to avoid fair housing violations.The course curriculum is centered around the regulations in the two major fair housing laws, The Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The course also includes a discussion of the additional state and local protected characteristics. In addition, relevant portions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are covered.The purpose of the Fair Housing Act is to eliminate housing discrimination, promote economic opportunity, and achieve diverse, inclusive communities. Professional fair housing training assists in this mission by ensuring that housing professionals understand both the rights of the public relative to fair housing and the duties and responsibilities of real estate professionals. April 20: Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) - Guidance for Non-HUD Properties Subject to the Law - The Violence Against Women (VAWA) Reauthorization Act of 2013 expanded VAWA protections to many different affordable housing programs - including the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) Program. While HUD has provided detailed requirements on VAWA implementation at HUD properties, there has been no uniform guidance for LIHTC owners and managers. A proposal before Congress would legislate that LIHTC Extended Use Agreements contain VAWA requirements. The IRS has not provided guidance and while many state agencies are requiring VAWA plans, they are not providing information on what the plans should look like. This two-hour training - when combined with the course materials- will review VAWA requirements and recommend best practices for developing VAWA plans at LIHTC and other non-HUD properties. The session will be presented by A. J. Johnson, a recognized expert in the affordable housing field and the author of "A Property Manager s Guide to the Violence Against Women Act." These sessions are part of the year-long collaboration between A. J. Johnson and MidAtlantic AHMA that is designed to provide affordable housing professionals with the knowledge needed to effectively manage the complex requirements of the various agencies overseeing these programs. Persons interested in any (or all) of these training sessions may register by visiting either www.ajjcs.net or https://www.mid-atlanticahma.org.

CDFI Fund Receives Record Number of Applications for NMTC Program in 2022 Round

The CDFI Fund, a branch of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, has announced that it has received a record number of applications for the CY 2022 round of the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) Program. The program is designed to promote economic development in distressed communities by offering tax credit allocations to Community Development Entities (CDEs) for investments in eligible areas. A total of 197 applications were submitted for the program, with CDEs from 44 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico applying for a share of the $5 billion in allocation authority available for the 2022 round. However, these applicants requested an aggregate total of $14.8 billion in NMTC allocation authority, almost three times the available amount. The NMTC Program was created by Congress in 2000 to encourage individual and corporate taxpayers to invest in CDEs, offering a tax credit equal to 39% of the cost of the investment over a seven-year period. The CDEs must then use the investment to make qualified investments in low-income communities. The CDFI Fund administers a competitive application and review process to select successful applicants, and the $71 billion in tax credit allocation authority awarded through the program has been used to promote economic development in distressed communities across the United States. This amount includes $3 billion in Recovery Act Awards and $1 billion of special allocation authority for the Gulf Opportunity Zone. The demand for the NMTC Program highlights the continued need for economic development in distressed communities across the United States. For more information about the NMTC Program, visit the CDFI Fund s website at www.cdfifund.gov/nmtc.

Biden Administration Introduces "Renters Bill of Rights"

In late January 2023, the Biden administration released a Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights. This blueprint describes federal actions around five guiding renter protections: Safe, Quality, Accessible, and Affordable Housing; Clear and Fair Leases; Education; Enforcement and Enhancement of Renters Rights; the Right to Organize; and Eviction Prevention, Diversion, and Relief. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced it will identify the opportunities and challenges of adopting and enforcing tenant protections, including policies that limit egregious rent increases at properties with Government Sponsored Enterprise (GSE) backed mortgages going forward. FHFA is also going to publish a GSE Look-Up Tool to determine if a property is backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac financing and requires a 30-day notice to vacate for non-payment of rent. HUD will also issue a notice of proposed rulemaking requiring that PHAs and owners of project-based rental assistance properties provide no less than a 30-day notice of lease termination due to nonpayment of rent. The blueprint also recommends that local governments take the following actions: (1) immediately seal eviction filings and only unseal them in the case of a decision against the tenant; (2) provide the right to counsel in eviction proceedings; and (3) prohibit source of income discrimination. Following is a description of the "five principles" outlined in the Blueprint. First Principle: Access to Safe, Quality, Accessible, and Affordable Housing Renters should have access to housing that is safe, decent, and affordable and should pay no more than 30 percent of household income on housing costs. Owners of rental housing and state and local governments should ensure that homes for rent meet habitability standards and are free of health and safety hazards, such as lead or mold. In addition, owners should provide services and amenities as advertised or included in the lease (such as utility costs and functional appliances) and ensure that the residential housing unit is well maintained (including common areas). Renters should face minimal barriers when applying for housing and receiving housing assistance, which includes minimally burdensome application and documentation requirements and fair and equal tenant screening. Increases in rents should be reasonable, with the acknowledgment that rents may need to increase to cover operating costs. These increases should be transparent and fair to protect against gouging. In 2019, almost 25% of renters spent half their income on rent. Nationally, rents rose 26% during the pandemic. Limited housing supply has created more competition for fewer available units, which gives owners even more leverage in deciding to whom to rent to, what lease terms to offer, and whether and how much to raise rents. At the same time, the housing stock in America is aging, and more rental housing is facing obsolescence or poor housing conditions. Perhaps in recognition of the fact that private owners who do not operate under any programmatic regulations (i.e., conventional housing) are not responsible for making housing affordable. These owners operate rental housing for the profits that can be made from such housing. Offering incentives for affordability is the responsibility of the government, at the federal, state, and local levels. To accomplish this, the Biden Administration has proposed the largest expansion of the Housing Choice Voucher program in decades. In addition to this step, the Administration has proposed the following: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will explore ways to expand the use of its authority under the FTC Act to take action against acts and practices that unfairly prevent consumers from obtaining and retaining housing. As announced in November, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), an independent agency, will increase affordability in the multifamily rental market by classifying multifamily loans with loan agreements that restrict rents at levels affordable to households with incomes between 80 and 120 percent of Area Median Income as "mission-driven." In 2023, FHFA required that at least 50 percent of all Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae purchases of multifamily loans be mission-driven. In 2022, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae purchased a combined $142 billion in multifamily loans supporting over one million units. If the same activity holds in 2023, this will mean an investment in approximately 700,000 affordable units. Second Principle: Clear & Fair Leases Renters should have a clear and fair lease that has defined rental terms, rights, and responsibilities. Leases should not include mandatory arbitration clauses, unauthorized terms, hidden or illegal fees, false representations, or other unfair or deceptive practices. A lease should provide a transparent policy regarding security deposits, with those deposits being appropriately sized and placed in an interest-bearing account for the duration of the lease. The lease should also provide reasonable advance notice of actions related to the unit, including notice of entry for inspection by the housing provider and significant changes to the unit. Finally, the lease terms should be written in simple and clear language accessible to the renter, and the leasing process should ensure tenants understand the terms of the lease through a plain-language briefing. A lease establishes the foundation for the housing provider and tenant relationship, highlighting the rights, responsibilities, and recourse that exists for both parties. A lease covers the terms for what is likely the largest single expense a household makes each month and over the course of a year. The trend of more leases with problematic provisions can be partially attributed to the increased use of shared forms, which are easily accessible through the internet and may include terms that are not legally enforceable in the state or locality in which the property is located. To ensure fair leases to the greatest extent possible, the Administration is announcing the following new actions: USDA will institute a broad set of actions that will advance clear leases and ensure tenants can seek compliance with lease terms without facing retaliation across its portfolio of 400,000 units of multifamily rental housing. Specifically, USDA is developing a clear and fair lease that is similar to the model lease used in HUD Section 8 properties. USDA will also create a tenant grievance FAQ outlining clear steps for tenants appealing a management decision and will distribute it to owners and management agents, and ask for distribution to tenants and tenant advocacy groups. Further, USDA Rural Development is working to create a Tenant Rights and Responsibilities brochure modeled after the HUD Multifamily brochure for assisted housing residents, increasing consistency between the two agencies and clarifying Rural Development tenants rights and responsibilities. USDA will explore updating its regulations to require borrowers with federal credit from the department s Rural Housing Service to utilize the brochure. Owners and managers in the RD Section 515 Program should be prepared for this upcoming change. A good starting point is a review of the current HUD Model Lease for Multifamily Housing and the HUD Rights & Responsibilities Brochure. This will give operators of Section 515 housing an idea of what may be coming down the road. Third Principle: Education, Enforcement, and Enhancement of Rights The Administration position is that Federal, state, and local governments should do all they can to ensure renters know their existing legal rights and to protect renters from unlawful discrimination and exclusion that can take many different forms. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) bans discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), disability, familial status, and national origin, including practices that have an unjustified disparate impact on a protected class. The Administration proposes to expand the FHA to prohibit discrimination based on source of income. In order to implement this third principle, HUD is finalizing a rule to clarify that the Fair Housing Act continues to bar practices with unjustified discriminatory effects notwithstanding efforts to weaken its reach. In addition, HUD has published a proposed Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule to strengthen and better align grantee planning efforts to advance fair housing goals. The federal government has advanced other rights beyond those protected by the Fair Housing Act. For example, discrimination against a holder of a Housing Choice Voucher is banned in the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, which is the largest affordable housing production program in the country. The Administration has announced the following new actions: Tenant Background Checks: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has said it will identify guidance or rules that it can issue to ensure that the background screening industry adheres to the law and coordinate law enforcement efforts with the FTC to hold tenant background check companies accountable for having reasonable procedures to ensure accurate information in the credit reporting system. HUD, FHFA, FTC, and USDA have said they will work with CFPB to release best practices on the use of tenant screening reports, including the importance of communicating clearly to tenants the use of tenant background checks in denying rental applications or increasing fees and providing tenants the opportunity to address inaccurate information contained within background screening reports. HUD, FHFA, and USDA have said they will strongly encourage property owners in their respective portfolios to align with these best practices and inform them of any additional relevant legal requirements in their respective portfolios. HUD will also release guidance addressing the use of tenant screening algorithms in ways that may violate the Fair Housing Act. Source of Income Discrimination: Discrimination based on a person s source of income is not expressly prohibited under the Fair Housing Act. There are several ongoing agency actions that will be enhanced, consistent with agency authorities, to reduce such discrimination going forward. Consistent with existing LIHTC rules, the Treasury Department reiterates that LIHTC building owners should lease units in a manner consistent with HUD s nondiscrimination rules and are prohibited from refusing to lease units to prospective tenants due to their status as holders of Housing Choice Vouchers or certificates of eligibility. The Treasury Department will meet with tenants, advocates, housing providers, and researchers to discuss ways to further the goals of tenant protections, including those around source of income, as well as broader issues of affordability and eviction prevention with respect to the LIHTC incentive.  HUD will explore opportunities to address source of income discrimination through guidance. Fourth Principle: The Right to Organize The Administration believes that renters should have the right to organize without obstruction or harassment from their housing provider or property manager and should not risk losing housing over organizing. Tenants in different types of HUD and RD programs have recognized rights to organize. The Administration is not proposing that the government impose this requirement on non-assisted properties. They are taking the following steps: The Department of Defense (DoD) commits to ensuring that military members living in DoD s government-owned, government-controlled, or privatized housing have the right to organize and affirms their right to report housing issues to their chain of command and/or Military Housing Office without fear of retribution or retaliation. HUD s Office of Multifamily Housing is developing a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) to distribute appropriated funds to support tenant capacity-building activities, including tenant education and outreach. HUD s Office of Multifamily Housing will build on existing training and technical assistance strategies to promote engagement with residents and implementation of the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) resident protections, including grievance procedures, by owners of RAD-converted properties. This will include fact sheets and similar public resources, targeted outreach to owners of recently converted properties, and measures to refresh awareness of program expectations following the completion of the conversion process. It should be noted that these actions will not apply to LIHTC properties. Fifth Principle: Eviction Prevention, Diversion, and Relief Before the pandemic, roughly 900,000 evictions were completed against tenants every single year. In order to reduce the number of evictions, the Administration is taking the following actions: HUD will issue a notice of proposed rulemaking, to build upon the previously issued Interim Final Rule, which will propose to require that PHAs administering a public housing program and owners of project-based rental assistance properties provide no less than 30 days advanced notification of lease termination due to nonpayment of rent. HUD will award $20 million for the Eviction Protection Grant Program in fiscal year 2023, which will fund non-profits and governmental entities to provide legal assistance to low-income tenants at risk of or subject to eviction. FHFA, Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae have indicated their commitment to publishing information about the Enterprise Look-Up Tools, which allow tenants to determine if their property is backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac financing and requires the 30-day notice to vacate for non-payment of rent. The Enterprises will continue to publish this information and assess how the individual tools might be enhanced to improve utility. Bottom Line - This "Renters Bill of Rights" will have a direct impact on federally assisted housing, with some minor effects across the non-federal universe of rental housing. The most immediate impact will be felt in the rural housing community due to the Rural Development Service development of a Model Lease and "Rights & Responsibilities" brochure. At the same time, the push to create "best practices" relative to applicant background screening should lead landlords to examine current practices - before they are forced to do so by state or local agencies. With regard to the LIHTC program, The Treasury Department will meet with tenants, advocates, housing providers, and researchers to discuss ways to further the goals of tenant protections, including those around source of income, as well as broader issues of affordability and eviction prevention with respect to the LIHTC incentive. 

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