oversight

San Francisco HA, San Francisco, CA

Published by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General on 1996-04-05.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                     U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
                                 Office of Inspector General
                                             Pacific/Hawaii
                                450 Golden Gate Avenue, P.O. Box 36003
                                  San Francisco, California 94102-3448

                                              April 5, 1996

                                                                          AUDIT RELATED MEMORANDUM
                                                                                      96-SF-201-1806



MEMO TO: Joyce Roberson, Director, Office of Public Housing, California State Office, 9APH


FROM:         Gary E. Albright, District Inspector General for Audit, 9AGA

SUBJECT:      San Francisco Housing Authority
              Tenant Screening and Eviction
              San Francisco, California


We recently gathered information on tenant screening and eviction practices of public housing agen-
cies, particularly in regards to keeping criminals out of public housing. This work included visits to the
San Francisco housing authority. Although this did not include a complete review of the housing
authority's practices, we identified several ways it could keep criminals out of its housing projects. We
recommend you share these ideas with the housing authority and consider whether other authorities
might benefit from them, particularly in light of President Clinton's recently issued policy on crime in
public housing.

                                           BACKGROUND
On March 28, 1996 President Clinton signed an executive order to reduce crime in public housing.
Under his "one strike and you're out" policy, residents may be evicted for involvement in violent or
drug-related crimes, or for allowing their guests to commit such crimes.

On March 2, 1996, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown announced that he was firing the San Francisco
housing authority's commissioners, its chief executive officer, and her management staff. Officials from
the Department of Housing and Urban Development have stepped in to run, temporarily, the housing
authority to reorganize it, recruit new management, and establish new procedures to monitor its
performance. This was the result of criticism of the housing authority's lack of competent leadership,
physical decay of the housing, poor performance in collecting back rent, and the high level of crime
existing at its housing projects.

The United States Housing Act of 1937, as amended by the Cranston-Gonzales National Affordable
Housing Act, authorizes federal assistance to local public housing agencies to provide decent, safe,
and sanitary housing for low-income residents. Also, the act requires the agencies to follow sound
management practices such as:

              Tenant selection. Applicants for public housing should be screened to assure that
              eligibility requirements (such as income limits) are met and to decide whether applicants
              would be desirable as tenants. The desirability of tenants focuses on conduct affecting
              the enjoyment of other residents (such as nuisance or criminal behavior), physical
              environment (such as housekeeping habits), and the financial stability of the housing
              (paying rent when it is due).
                                   San Francisco Housing Authority


              Tenant eviction. Tenants whose behavior is undesirable -- such as serious or repeated
              lease violations or criminal activity negatively affecting other tenants -- need to be
              identified and promptly evicted, while following due process. Due process includes
              elements such as giving adequate notice and providing a grievance process to give the
              tenant opportunity to refute agency claims.

                                   LIMITED WORK PERFORMED
Intermittently from August to November 1995, we collected information on public housing agencies'
practices and problems with tenant screening and eviction, especially as it concerned efforts to keep
criminals out of public housing. This work was limited and was not intended to result in definitive
conclusions. We reviewed applicable HUD regulations and interviewed officials from the San Fran-
cisco police department, two community legal services groups, and a criminal investigator from the
HUD Office of Inspector General. We also visited three public housing agencies in the Bay Area,
including the San Francisco housing authority. At the San Francisco housing authority, we interviewed
various officials involved with tenant screening and eviction, such as the head of security, legal
counsel, and project managers. We also reviewed several tenant-eviction files.

                              OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The extent of our work was not intended to be sufficient to evaluate the overall adequacy or effec-
tiveness of the San Francisco housing authority's policies and procedures for screening and evicting
tenants. Still, from our observations of the authority's operations and discussions with various officials,
we identified several opportunities to decrease criminal presence at its housing projects, and thus
improve the safety and well-being of its tenants. Accordingly, we are providing suggestions for
possible implementation at the housing authority.

THIRD -PARTY SOURCES FOR PREDICTING APPLICANT BEHAVIOR . Previous behavior is an indicator
of how suitable an applicant's future behavior will be, and information on past behavior, especially
criminal behavior, is best obtained from third-party sources. We suggest that the housing authority
make greater use of these sources to screen all family members eighteen years or older. These
procedures could also be used for new adults to existing tenant families. There are several good
sources for information on criminal behavior:

        •     California law authorizes local law enforcement agencies to obtain criminal history
              information for public housing agencies to screen prospective tenants. The housing
              authority can obtain a "sanitized" version of the criminal record from local police.
              Information can also be obtained on the different aliases and addresses used by the
              person. The arrest report and any laboratory results on suspected controlled
              substances seized during the arrest can also be obtained.

        •     Courts can provide information on previous convictions.

        •     If the authority considers applications from reformed criminals; then parole officers,
              physicians, treatment clinics, and rehabilitation centers can be contacted.

        •     Former landlords can be contacted to determine if they are aware of or suspect criminal
              behavior by the applicants.

SPECIFIC SCREENING GUIDELINES . To provide uniformity in treating applicants and to assure imple-
mentation of management policies, specific criteria should be adopted as to what past criminal behav-
ior will or will not rule out an applicant. For example, certain crimes may have little relevance, and


AUDIT RELATED MEMORANDUM                                                                   96-SF-201-1806
                                                  Page 2
                                    San Francisco Housing Authority


other crimes might be discounted because they occurred long ago or there is evidence of complete
rehabilitation. Also, a series of minor crimes might disqualify the applicant while an individual instance
may not.

DOCUMENTATION OF THE SCRE ENING PROCESS . Adequate documentation of the screening process
is needed so that management can assure that its policies are carried out. Documentation can be
especially improved in instances where a document is not obtained. For example, if a landlord is
contacted by phone, a note to the file should be prepared to document the contact and show the
results. Also, when negative information is obtained, the file should describe the basis for resolution.

PURSUING ARREST REPORTS . The San Francisco police department provides arrest reports to the
housing authority for persons it suspects are public housing residents. The housing authority uses the
report as a basis to begin eviction of the tenant when considered appropriate. The effectiveness of
the process can be improved by obtaining information to confirm whether the person is in fact a
resident and determine the culpability of other members of the family. This can be accomplished by
the following:

        •     Have the police department provide, with the arrest report, a list of aliases and other
              addresses used by the suspect. The police can also provide laboratory results on
              seized substance to confirm whether the substances are controlled.

        •     Perform its own follow-up investigation. Investigative techniques such as interviews of
              family members and neighbors can identify the degree of culpability of family individuals.
              The investigation may also identify other serious lease violations (such as unreported
              income or unregistered occupants) which can support eviction or other actions. The
              housing authority should assess the capability of its staff to perform such investigations,
              and hire qualified investigators or provide training to existing staff as necessary.

        •     Share information with other agencies found to be affected. For example, undisclosed
              income not only affects the tenant's rent paid to the housing authority, it can also affect
              AFDC assistance received by the family. Thus, the results of investigation can be
              optimized by having all affected parties seeking remedy. Also, the housing authority, in
              addition to evicting the tenant, should file a criminal complaint when appropriate.

TENANT RELOCATION . Tenants who witness or file complaints against criminals are exposed to retal-
iation or intimidation by the criminals or their associates. As a result, many tenants are reluctant to file
complaints or provide testimony or other evidence. The housing authority has a tenant relocation
program, but there is criticism that it is not effective because the relocation panel usually rejects
relocation requests by complainants despite recommendations by the police. Thus, the housing
authority should evaluate its policies governing the panel and its composition and make appropriate
changes. Also, the housing authority should consider giving vouchers instead of relocating the
witnesses to other projects so that the witnesses can relocate farther away.

PROTECTION OF STAFF . Project managers are also subject to this retaliation and intimidation. Thus,
they are subject to physical harm, and if they drive to the project, their personal cars are subject to
vandalism. The managers' exposure could be reduced if the housing authority provides cellular
phones so that emergency calls can be made readily and, where use of an automobile is necessary,
the housing authority provides marked housing authority vehicles or covers the cost of the vandalism.

SUFFICIENCY OF LEGAL SERVICES . The housing authority's legal counsel responsible for tenant evic-
tions said that there was insufficient legal staff to properly process all evictions. The housing authority
should consider expanding its legal staff or contracting this function to outside attorneys.


AUDIT RELATED MEMORANDUM                                                                    96-SF-201-1806
                                                  Page 3
                                   San Francisco Housing Authority


TRACKING SYSTEM FOR COMPLAINTS . Project managers receive tenant complaints, and the security
superintendent receives police reports. They are responsible for determining the merit of these
matters. To assure that these matters are addressed and to permit management oversight, the
property managers and security superintendent should maintain appropriate logs and provide reports
to higher management that identify the individual cases, describe the nature of the complaints or
referrals, provide the status of the housing authority's reviews, and disclose the final outcomes.

TRACKING LEGAL NOTICES AND FILINGS . The housing authority's information system only includes
one data field for each tenant to log a legal notice or filing. Legal counsel, however, told us that
multiple data fields are needed to track the eviction process because it involves many notices and
filings. Thus, the system could be revised or supplemented to provide this information.

BLOCKING TENANT PAYMENTS . If action is being taken to evict a tenant, rent payments are not usually
accepted because the courts may interpret the housing authority's acceptance of rent as a waiver of
the eviction action. To block acceptance of rental payments, the housing authority's data system has
a code to notify the accounting department that rent is not to be accepted from particular tenants.
Presently, however, this block can be removed by housing management staff without the knowledge
and concurrence of the legal staff working on the evictions. To address this problem, the housing
authority could require management staff to provide advance notice to the legal staff on removal of
such blocks, and the data system could provide daily reports identifying removed blocks.

TRESPASSERS . Trespassers, who may or may not be residents of public housing projects, are alleged
to perpetrate a large part of the crime in public housing. While the police do cite trespassers, fines are
minimal and the district attorney is unlikely to prosecute. To help address this problem, the housing
authority could have the police provide copies of the trespass citations and:

        •     For residents of public housing projects, include in the lease a provision permitting
              eviction for repeated trespassing on housing projects. The citations or copies of bench
              warrants for unpaid trespassing fines would support eviction.

        •     For non-residents, obtain restraining orders for repeat trespassers. Violation of a court
              order subjects the trespasser to increased penalties.

                                        RECOMMENDATION
We recommend you share these ideas with the San Francisco housing authority and consider whether
other authorities might benefit from them. We are not controlling this recommendation.



Please call senior auditor Mark Pierce at 436-8101 if you have any questions.




AUDIT RELATED MEMORANDUM                                                                   96-SF-201-1806
                                                 Page 4
                                 San Francisco Housing Authority



                                         DISTRIBUTION

Director, Office of Public Housing, HUD California State Office
Secretary's Representative, HUD California State Office
Counsel, HUD California State Office
Office of Public and Indian Housing Comptroller, HUD
Office of Distressed and Troubled Housing Recovery, HUD
Assistant General Counsel, Assisted Housing Division, HUD
Assistant to the Secretary for Field Management, HUD
Assistant to the Deputy Secretary for Field Management, HUD
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Field Management, HUD
Office of the Chief Financial Officer, HUD
Office for Deputy Chief Financial Officer for Finance, HUD
U.S. General Accounting Office




AUDIT RELATED MEMORANDUM                                           96-SF-201-1806
                                               Page 5
                    U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
                                Office of Inspector General
                                            Pacific/Hawaii
                               450 Golden Gate Avenue, P.O. Box 36003
                                 San Francisco, California 94102-3448




                                            April 5, 1996



TO:           SEE DISTRIBUTION BELOW


FROM:         Gary E. Albright, District Inspector General for Audit, 9AGA

SUBJECT:      San Francisco Housing Authority
              Tenant Screening and Eviction
              San Francisco, California
              Audit Related Memorandum 96-SF-201-1805



(   )   Director, Office of Public Housing, California State Office, 9APH               3
(   )   Secretary's Representative, California State Office, 9AS                        1
(   )   Counsel, California State Office, 9AC                                           1
(   )   Office of Comptroller (Attn: K. Brockington), Texas State Office, 6AF           1

(   )   Office of Public and Indian Housing Comptroller, PF (room 4122)                 3
(   )   Office of Distressed and Troubled Housing Recovery, PT (room 4148)              1
(   )   Assistant General Counsel, Assisted Housing Division, CEP (room 8166)           1
(   )   Assistant to the Deputy Secretary for Field Management, SDF (room 7106)         1
(   )   Deputy Assistant to the Secretary for Field Management, SDF (room 7106)         1
(   )   Chief Financial Officer, F (room 10164)                                         2
(   )   Deputy Chief Financial Officer for Finance, FF (room 10166)                     2

( )     Associate Director (Attn: Jim Wells); General Accounting Office;
             820 First St., N.E., Suite 150; Washington, D.C.                           2

(   )   Assistant Inspector General for Audit, GA (room 8286)                           1
(   )   Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Audit, GA (room 8286)                    1
(   )   Director, Program Analysis & Special Projects Division, GAP (room 8180)         1
(   )   Director, Management and Evaluation Division, GFM (room 8254)                   1
(   )   Semi-Annual Report Coordinator, GFM (room 8254)                                 1
(   )   Central Records, GFA (room 8266)                                                2

( )     Special Agent in Charge, Pacific/Hawaii Office, 9AGI                            1
( )     District Inspector General for Audit, Washington State Office, 0AGA             1
( )     OIG Pacific/Hawaii Office: Albright, McCargar, Bahr, Warner, Lovell, Pierce,
               Cembrano (2)                                                             8
( )     OIG Pacific/Hawaii Office: San Francisco files (4), Los Angeles files (1),
               Phoenix files (1)                                                        6

                    Total                                                              42