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New Guidance on Remote Informal Hearings for PHAs

On November 20, 2020, HUD released Notice PIH 2020-32, “Guidance for PHAs on the Allowability of Remote Hearings and Remote Briefings.” In this document, HUD discusses how to handle grievance procedure hearings and remote briefings for Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) recipients.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for social distancing, particularly within indoor settings, has created new barriers and challenges for housing and program management.

Technology has provided ways to keep people connected in these difficult times, but using that technology presents challenges – particularly when residents do not have access to the internet or technology.  Ensuring that applicants and residents can request an informal hearing is a fundamental and vital part of managing Public Housing – and these rights need to be protected, even during a pandemic.

Accessibility requirements for persons with disabilities

Under Section 504 and the ADA, PHAs are obligated to take appropriate steps to ensure effective communication with applicants, participants, members of the public, and companions with disabilities through the use of appropriate auxiliary aids and services….. In addition, under these laws, PHAs are required to make reasonable accommodations in policies, practices, and procedures to ensure persons with disabilities have equal opportunity to participate in all the PHA’s privileges, benefits, and services

For a remote hearing or remote briefing, steps for an accessible platform include ensuring any information, websites, emails, digital notifications, and platforms are accessible for persons with vision, hearing, and other disabilities.

What do you do if a resident or applicant cannot access technology for a remote informal hearing?

If no method of conducting a remote hearing or remote briefing is available that appropriately accommodates an individual’s disability, the PHA may not hold against the individual his or her inability to participate in the remote hearing or remote briefing. The PHA should consider whether postponing the hearing or remote briefing to a later date is appropriate or whether there is a suitable alternative to meet the participant’s satisfaction more expeditiously.

What about residents or applicants with Limited English Proficiency (LEP)?

The obligation to provide meaningful access for LEP persons regarding remote hearings and remote briefings is particularly important , meaning that the PHA will generally need to coordinate with a remote language interpretation service prior to the remote hearing or remote briefing. Further, conferencing technology may provide for remote interpretation; if video technology is available, remote interpretation using video is generally preferred over voice-only because of the additional visual cues. Importantly, though, PHAs cannot rely on minors to interpret.

Does the PHA have to update their Administrative Plan before implementing remote informal hearings?

All grievance policies and procedures for the PHA should be updated if remote hearings are implemented. HUD provides detail on this in the notice.

If the PHA would like to implement a remote hearing as described in this notice, then the PHA must update its grievance procedure policy as described in 24 CFR 966.52 to include provisions to allow for the use of mail, electronic mail, telephone, and video call, as appropriate and as described in this notice. … The administrative plan must state the PHA procedures for conducting informal hearings for applicants and participants (see 24 CFR 982.554(b) and 24 CFR 982.555(e)). If the PHA would like to implement a remote hearing as described in this notice, then the PHA must update its administrative plan.

Does a PHA have to implement remote hearings?

No. In some cases where access to technology will present significant impediments to creating meaningful access for residents and applicants, PHAs may want to find other ways to conduct informal hearings with social distancing and other safety precautions. HUD PIH provides some insight on best practices:

Have PHA staff reach out directly to tenants by phone after the briefing. Particularly if the briefing is not interactive, have staff reach out directly to families by phone to make sure their questions have been answered….
Consider the impact of families attending briefings remotely on other program functions… Conducting remote briefings may mean that families never meet face-to-face with the housing authority. PHAs need to consider if this change impacts any other program functions and plan accordingly.

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