One HUD employee said the agency took “a shrug of the shoulders kind of approach” to protecting low-income Americans from the shutdown.
House Democrats are using their new oversight authority to investigate the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s management of the shutdown, as questions mount about HUD’s failure to renew low-income housing contracts for more than 1,000 properties across the country.
“HUD knew for months about this impending deadline to renew the contracts, but for some reason they failed to take proper action in advance of the shutdown,” said Rep. David Price, D-N.C., the incoming chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on transportation and housing, in a statement.
“I am seeking detailed explanations from HUD officials about this failure and how they will mitigate the consequences, and I will call a hearing if necessary.”
HUD told NBC News on Monday that about 1,150 contracts under a Section 8 program known as Project-Based Rental Assistance had lapsed. The program subsidizes rent and utilities for 1.2 million households, including families with young children, the elderly and the disabled.
The Trump administration estimates that about 500 more contracts are scheduled to expire this month and 550 in February unless the government reopens. The expiring contracts, which cover about 52 families apiece on average, have raised fears that landlords will not have money to repair and maintain the properties where tens of thousands of families live, and that low-income tenants could face eviction.
Administration officials said they were working assiduously to protect the program.
“HUD is leaving no stone unturned and using every resource Congress has provided the agency to make certain its rental assistance programs continue to operate with minimal disruption,” Jereon Brown, spokesman for HUD Secretary Ben Carson, said in a statement.
“Secretary Carson urges Democrats to act swiftly and present an acceptable bill to the president so that HUD can continue its mission to provide safe and affordable housing to those in need,” he added.
While some effects of the shutdown are inescapable, there has been growing criticism inside and outside of HUD that the department should have been better prepared to contain the fallout.
“Were the impacts fully anticipated, and was there the right level of concern given to these issues?” asked a HUD employee who works in a California field office, who asked not to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the press. “It was more of a shrug of the shoulders kind of approach.”