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Evolution: A New Paradigm for the Public Housing Authority “Permanent Waivers and Flexibilities”

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Michael C. Threatt
August 2, 2020

Instead of seeking stability and status quo, public administrators of Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) should seek change and innovation. In Woodrow Wilson’s famous essay, The Study of Administration, he indicated that the government should operate more like a business to achieve efficiency and effectiveness. Wilson would come to the same conclusion about the PHA and its operations.

As we think about the Refounding Movement era that welcomed the New Public Management (NPM) paradigm, this created an optimistic approach to providing government services with a focus on improving effectiveness and efficiency. Ewan Ferlie, Laurence E. Lynn Jr., and Christopher Pollitt stated in their book The Oxford Handbook of Public Management that the NPM approach was implemented through outsourcing services by creating principal-agent contracts and public-private partnerships. Robert B. Denhardt, Janet V. Denhardt and Tara A. Blanc indicated in their book Public Administration: An Action Orientation that the Refounding Movement created a resurgence of electing ethical public officials and recruiting ethical public administrators through New Public Service. In consonance with this premise, the same authors also indicated in their book Public Administration: An Action Orientation that these same ethical public administrators identified that taxpayer dollars were poorly used, tied to ineffective programs and public policy that did not produce outcomes.

The demand for affordable housing has not been as high as it is today since the Great Depression, when the Public Housing Act of 1937 was passed, which created the PHA legislation under the New Deal. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has created a time where the flexibilities and innovation of the PHA are finally on display to assist with meeting the affordable housing demand. The economic performance paradigm shift of PHAs doing business from a brick and mortal platform to embracing an online platform based on the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged public administrators of PHAs to evolve from being transactional to being transformational.

The PHA is experiencing a similar movement that requires implementing the NPM model through both collaborative governance and the transformation of governance. PHAs who never thought about having a website not only have new websites but are also now using social media, web-based software and portals for staff, boards, tenants and landlords; text message alerts, and chatting online with customers, contractors and community stakeholders. Moreover, this has allowed the PHA to be more responsive to the public. For example, in-person activity for board meetings, trainings, webinars, tenant and applicant interviews, briefings and lease-ups and conferences are now live on Zoom, WebEx and other telecommunication outlets. To take it a step further, PHAs are conducting virtual apartment showings and remote virtual inspections. They are utilizing electronic signatures, kiosks and tools of E-procurement for their business operations similar to the private sector. PHAs are also providing bonus incentive payments to recruit and retain landlords.

Public administrators should take advantage of not returning to “normal” operations that are subjected to, “Satisficing because of politics,” (i.e., status quo, checking the box “public administration”), as Norma M. Riccucci, illustrated in her book Public Administration: Traditions of Inquiry and Philosophies of Knowledge. Rather, they should utilize the momentum of the “new normal.” Public administrators must create the synergy to provide a seamless transition of the paradigm shift, embracing a 21st-century technological approach of providing affordable housing services by a) moving from paper to the cloud, b) doing more with less, c) moving from outputs to outcomes and d) increasing public-private partnerships.

The political ideology has not always supported affordable housing programs and funding has not always been made available; however, this is the window of opportunity to take yesterday’s failures and turn them into tomorrow’s successes. This window of opportunity also creates the premise to change the public image of affordable housing by removing the stigmas and stereotypes that are associated with PHAs. Public administrators must take this window of opportunity, as John Kingdon developed with his Multiple Streams theory where the three streams of policy, problems and politics flow perfectly together to illustrate why a permanent policy solution should be made for these statutory waivers to become permanent regulations (i.e., housing policy reform). These flexibilities that PHAs have received based on the COVID-19 pandemic and the CARES Act funding have allowed public administrators to embrace transformational leadership and elevate their affordable housing operations to the next level through innovation and creativity.

Based on this paradigm shift, the change to a virtual work environment of teleworking and flex-schedules has created an innovative and technological approach to providing affordable housing services and enhanced both performance and productivity. This has also created a window of opportunity to recruit, attract and retain an articulate workforce that is the best and brightest in the affordable housing industry. Public administrators are now able to create a high-performing organizational culture, implement a social entrepreneurial approach to affordable housing and enrich the lives of residents and participants through self-sufficiency/ independent living empowerment. Public administrators can create environments where best-practices and evidence-based practices can be implemented that will result in increased productivity and financial savings (time, money and materials) through results and performance outcomes. Furthermore, permanently adopting these waivers would comprehensively improve the way the PHA does business.

These waivers should be permanently adopted to reduce the daunting task of meeting HUD regulatory mandates by increasing the flexibility to streamline the administration of affordable housing programs for PHAs. Nonetheless, the uniqueness that PHAs have of being quasi-governmental is the ability to function as both government and a private corporation, which is a huge incentive for the return on investment of taxpayer dollars.

Author: Mr. Michael C. Threatt is a DPA candidate at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is also the founder and CEO of the Corporation to Develop Communities of America, Inc. and the principal of Elevate Housing Solutions, LLC. Mr. Threatt has over 14 years of experience working for several public housing authorities (PHAs) in various roles, including executive leadership. In 2019, he won the Executive Director of the Year for Alabama NAHRO for implementing his “Housing Authority of Tomorrow” model. Mr. Threatt is a member of ASPA, NFBPA, and is a licensed Realtor®/ Realtist® in the state of Alabama. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on LinkedIn @ https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-c-threatt-m-a-8893b871/ . 

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