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Section 18 of the United States Housing Act of 1937 (USHA) provides that public housing agencies (PHAs) must seek approval from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to demolish or dispose of public housing. A PHA submitting an application for the demolition of public housing must certify that the development or portion of the development it seeks to demolish is (1) obsolete as to physical condition, location, or other factors, making it unsuitable for housing purposes; and (2) no reasonable program of modification is cost-effective to return the development or portion thereof to useful life.
In the event of a partial demolition, Section 18 requires the PHA to meet these requirements. In addition, it must certify that the demolition will help ensure the viability of the remaining portion of the development. In the event of accidental losses such as fires, storms and other natural disasters, HUD recently sought to authorize PHAs to demolish all or part of a structure without prior HUD approval to the extent needed to maintain the site in a safe condition or to eliminate an attractive nuisance.
A PHA submitting an application for the disposition of public housing must certify that: (1) retention of the property is not in the best interests of the public housing residents because of conditions in the area surrounding the development that adversely affect the health or safety of the residents or the feasible operation of the development, (2) that retention is not in the best interest of the public housing residents because disposition allows the acquisition, development or rehabilitation of other properties that will be more efficiently or effectively operated as low-income housing, or (3) that the PHA has otherwise determined that disposition is appropriate for other reasons as set forth in the statute. In the event of a disposition, the PHA may be required to provide residents an opportunity to purchase the development.
A PHA must also certify that it consulted with the residents and local governmental officials, that the PHA annual plan authorized the action and that the PHA will comply with the relocation provisions of Section 18.
Depending on the circumstances, advocates and tenants have sought to stop or modify a PHA’s plans to demolish or dispose of public housing and/or to condition any HUD approval. When relevant, advocates have argued that a PHA did not meet the statutory requirements of Section 18 and have also raised claims that the proposed demolition or disposition violated civil rights statutes, environmental laws and/or applicable state law.
Prior to a demolition or disposition, PHAs are required to fill out and submit HUD form 52860, Inventory Removal Application, to the HUD Special Application Center (SAC) along with certifications for HUD’s review and approval or disapproval.
There are legislative proposals to revise Section 18. In the meantime, congressional leaders have requested HUD to place a moratorium on all demolitions or dispositions of public housing and the HUD Secretary says that the Department will review applications for demolition or disposition more closely.