Empowerment Unites: Public Housing Agency Specialization and Private-Sector Property Management

Article excerpt

Public housing property managers have been known to think and operate differently than private-sector property managers. Approaching the same tasks from different fundamental mind sets has resulted in wide discrepancies in both basic operational principles and product quality. New support from the Department of Housing and Urban Development has allowed the public-sector world and private-sector property managers to establish a "validated grammar" of operating principles from which they can provide the highest quality product from the best use of available resources.

Within the scope of its responsibilities, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) supports the use of publicly owned residential property to provide affordable housing to the low-income citizens of America. Yet how to include public housing into the family of property management professionals has been an enigma for years. From a layman's perspective, the most basic stumbling block has seemed to rest in the fact that the private sector is competitive and profit motivated, while the public sector is not. However, while making money or not making money may appear to be the key philosophical separation between the public- and private-sector mind set, more refined distinctions of fundamental civil service duty have made it difficult to envision public-sector property managers as CERTIFIED PROPERTY MANAGERS[R].

Recently, however, HUD has given public-sector managers a new opportunity to contribute competitively and professionally to the property management profession. Under recent empowerment directives, public housing authorities have not been given license to "make money," but a license to think, in part, like those who do. Without abandoning our duty to serve the public, public managers have new authority to cross into a mind set driven by competitive market factors, income, and surplus. Instead we are working to reify a vision in which publicly owned properties can become self-sustaining entities, creating operating reserves independent of federal funds.

GETTING TO HERE

Steps that have preceded this level of empowerment included hard assessments of who we are as public housing managers, and within the scope of our position, what we can do. Many public housing managers have bravely faced the fact that in the past we have exhibited dysfunction as both civil servants and as property managers. Public housing residential complexes across the country had been easily identified by their large numbers of long-term vacant and boarded units. Public housing residents had been known to go for weeks with out-of-order appliances or months with paint chips falling off walls. In some cases, even in the dead of winter, it had taken days for broken toilets or windows to be repaired. From an administrative standpoint, rents collected from occupied units are sometimes as low as 50 percent of rents billed. Essentially, public housing has been a model of governmental inefficiency, and the antithesis of sound property management. But with the support of new HUD guidelines, local housing authorities have redefined how we can function, not only as competent civil servants, but also as professional property managers.

At last HUD has realized that if anything can be done within the scope of agency specialization to create a triumph over the nay-sayers, it must be done in a slow, deliberate, incremental fashion, tailored to fit the needs of individual housing authorities. The first step in this process is the creation of a number of measurable property management standards that must be met in order for operation to continue. Under PHMAP - Public Housing Management Assessment Program - the key indicators relate to day-to-day property management operation including standards for overall occupancy, time lines for unit turnaround, property maintenance schedules, and rent collection targets based on percentages of rents charged. The program has clearly supported local housing authorities in their efforts to realign their organizational priorities. …