Paul Brennan | CTMirror

A commentary published last week made the case that the residents of Groton’s Branford Manor, who have long been exposed to mold and other intolerable conditions, deserved better than the treatment they received at the hands of their landlord. We wholeheartedly agree.

Where we disagree, however, is the best course of immediate federal action to address the problem.

The author asserts that only a Congressionally requested investigation by the HUD Office Inspector General (OIG) can identify the problems at Branford Manor and tell us how the federal government can fix it. We value the role of independent inspectors general in federal agencies to uncover wrongdoing, wasteful spending, and other malfeasance. The HUD OIG, like their counterparts throughout the government, takes reports on wrongdoing and mismanagement from any member of the public, not just from members of Congress.

It’s true that we, as a delegation, have enlisted the IGs repeatedly to dig into serious problems—like the failures by ICE to carry out the deportations of convicted felons that U.S. courts have ordered removed— and we know all too well that their meticulous work can take months or even years to complete.

In this case, an OIG investigation would almost certainly tell us what we as members of Congress, Branford Manor residents, housing advocates, and HUD staff already know: that HUD’s standards on mold and housing inspections in multi-family HUD-subsidized privately owned housing fall far short of what is needed to protect residents from health and safety hazards.

Mold at Branford Manor Robert Boris | CTMirror

Case in point: the author points out, correctly, that HUD’s existing inspection process provides them with the ability to withhold payments or otherwise hold landlords accountable. Not noted, however, is the fact that Branford Manor passed two separate inspections in 2022 despite known and visible issues with mold, among other issues.

That same inspection process, which has not been thoroughly revised in decades, has been previously cited by the HUD OIG and Congress’s own watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), as inadequate and ineffective. That is precisely why HUD, with strong Congressional support, has been aggressively moving to replace the existing inspection framework with a new model.

Prior reports and investigations by these watchdog agencies have already called for HUD to address outdated policy and sustained regulatory shortcomings that contributed to the situation at Branford Manor, and other apartment buildings around the country experiencing similar health and safety issues. That work, thankfully, is already well underway right now.

Thanks to bipartisan Congressional directive and support, HUD is actively engaged in re-writing its policy on this issue first time in over 20 years to strengthen the inadequate Uniform Physical Condition Standards (UPCS) regulations, replacing UPCS with a new, comprehensive model: the National Standards of Real Estate (NSPIRE) regulations.

As currently proposed, updated NSPIRE rules will treat mold as a prohibited health and safety condition subject to enforcement. The NSPIRE rulemaking also would require expeditious repair and resolution of mold issues in any HUD-subsidized property. This overdue replacement of current standards to the UPCS has been making its way through the rulemaking process for the last three years and is close to the finish line. We’re going to do all we can to get this done.

Even with these changes, there’s more work to do for Branford Manor residents and so many others in our country that rely on support from HUD to access safe and affordable housing. There are areas of federal law that must be updated to provide the tools and accountably needed to not just to react to problem but to prevent them in the first place. And, of course, continued intense oversight into HUD and other elements of the federal housing assistance network that residents rely on.

Pursuing these sorts of effective solutions might not garner the same number of headlines that OIG investigations do, but it’s the kind of persistent work that results in real, lasting forward progress for our communities, and it’s worth the effort.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney represents Connecticut’s Second District, which includes Groton. Blumenthal and Murphy are Connecticut’s U.S. Senators.