Failures in Federal Housing Policy Focus of Media Investigation, Hartford Concerns Highlighted

An NBC News investigation of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has found that more than 1,000 out of HUD’s nearly 28,000 federally subsidized multifamily properties failed their most recent inspection — a failure rate that is more than 30 percent higher than in 2016, according to an analysis of HUD records. When NBC broke the story last week of the agency’s dismal record of responding to conditions that at times have been described a “life-threatening,” the example cited most prominently was in Hartford.

The news report stated that “A federal housing inspection in February confirmed living conditions were abysmal … throughout the 52-unit Section 8 development known as the Infill apartments. The property scored only 27 points out of 100, far below the 60 points needed to pass the mandatory health and safety inspection.”  Infill is located in Hartford’s North End. 

“More than nine months after the inspection, federally mandated deadlines for action have come and gone, and residents say little has changed,” NBC’s Stephanie Gosk reported, despite “citations for exposed wiring, missing smoke detectors and bug infestations,” noted that “the Infill units racked up 113 health and safety violations — including 24 that HUD deemed ‘life-threatening.’”

“In one of Hartford’s poorest neighborhoods, a three-month investigation by NBC News found that HUD failed to comply with federal laws requiring prompt action against the owner of a property that authorities knew was unsafe, unhealthy and in disrepair, according to documents released through the Freedom of Information Act,” Gosk reported.

While the agency pointed out that 96 percent nationwide passed inspections, NBC reported that “HUD’s enforcement office, tasked with going after the worst landlords, now has the lowest staff levels since 1999, according to a federal watchdog.”

“In the case of Infill, though, HUD acknowledged that the landlord failed to deliver,” NBC News reported. “The owner provided certain assurances to our field folks that, in the end, did not happen,” HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan said in an email to NBC News. “That hasn't stopped the federal subsidies,” NBC News reported.

"It's a flow of money that continues to come," AJ Johnson, a local pastor who has helped the tenants organize, told NBC News.  “Whether it’s indifference or incompetence, the Trump administration’s failures in Connecticut and around the country cannot be excused. Someone must be held accountable,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who led previous efforts to strengthen the HUD inspection process, NBC News reported. “Secretary [Ben] Carson owes it to these families to present a concrete plan for how he will make this better, and how he’ll make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”

Infill’s owner, meanwhile, is “set for years to come,” the NBC News report concluded.  “In July 2017, just seven months before the failed inspection, HUD renewed its contract with Isaacson for 20 years — a deal worth over $14 million.”

The NBC News investigation was reported, in addition to Gosk, by Suzy Khimm, Laura Strickler and Hanna Rappleye, and included interviews with numerous tenants of the property and other individuals in Hartford and Washington.