Given our positive working relationship—one of the authors is an executive with a property management company, while the other author works for a state housing agency—we can be honest with each other about some of the unspoken realities of our industry. If shared, these realities may help to build a stronger relationship between state housing agencies and management companies.
State agencies have roles as policy leaders, funders, and regulators of affordable housing programs. Those roles result in some interesting situations and perspectives. Based on those unique roles and responsibilities, the following are some of the realities a state agency staffer might share with his or her management company counterpart:
- Many housing credit agencies are government agencies, with many of the positives, and some of the negatives, that result from that status. There are multiple demands and often not enough staff.
- We often are not anymore excited about some regulations, rulings, or changes to programs than you, but we—and you—have to implement them. An example is the Enterprise Income Verification (EIV) system for Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs. While it is a useful tool for verifying income for HUD programs, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is not a party to the agreement that established the system. Thus, the EIV cannot be used to verify income for the low-income housing tax credit program (LIHTC)—as much as property managers and housing finance agency (HFA) staff might like to use it.
- The due diligence we require of you is necessary. Compliance with program requirements has to be clearly demonstrated. Often that can only be achieved through proper paperwork and record-keeping.
- We try to find ways to reduce your burden. For example, we share ideas at National Council of State Housing Agencies conferences and through list serves. Many HFA staffers were once in property management. We know what it is like to comply with the myriad program requirements.
- Mixed-finance projects are here to stay. We often have to craft rules that allow programs and funding resources to work together, which is not always easy. These combinations occasionally result in the burden of compliance resting squarely on the manager.
- We seek ways to help you stay in compliance, not find you out of compliance. We are committed to affordable housing, too. Issuing uncorrected IRS Form 8823 is a chore we like to avoid.
Managers of affordable housing communities are, at times, in a difficult position. They must ensure communities are financially viable, while at the same time ensuring the community is in compliance with all of the relevant housing programs assisting the community. This helps to create a unique reality for a manager. Some realities managers of affordable housing communities might wish to share with their state agency counterparts include:
- We have more responsibilities than complying with the LIHTC and other programs. We have to attend to the business of managing the property. For example, we have to handle maintenance requests, market the project, and pay vendors.
- Sometimes change happens faster than you can manage. You do not always have the tools or guidance we need to be successful.
- There is inconsistency in expectations and practices across the states, and even within monitoring staffs, providing us with an extra challenge.
- We are trying. Really. We want to do what is right and avoid problems and IRS 8823s.
- Employee turnover is almost always a problem. It’s one we cannot easily solve.
- Software and data issues take up more time than we would like. There are occasionally compatibility problems between our software and yours, but we also battle other computer and software issues that sap our resources.
- We really do not look for the problems and questions we present to you. These just happen. Projects are complicated because so many sources of funding are needed, which often conflict, or do not mix well. We struggle to make the programs work together, but it is often not easy. Requirements for recertification, income, or student status do not match.
What is the way forward? Certainly communication is a key factor—as it always is. More important is the nature of that communication. It has to be based on mutual trust and respect. It is easy to demand better communication, but some other steps can help ensure there is a fuller understanding of each key player’s roles and responsibilities. Critical steps for building better relations between property managers and HFA compliance staff include:
- Providing opportunities for feedback through forums, advisory committees, question and answer sessions, training, and customer service surveys. The Ohio Housing Finance Agency, along with nonprofit partner Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing created a Compliance Advisory Committee composed of management company executives, compliance consultants, investors, and other stakeholders. The committee has proven to be an excellent means to explore issues, discuss policy and procedure changes, and build important relationships.
- Fostering positive working relationships. Try to remember, it’s not personal.
- Patience. It takes time to effect changes.
- Understanding roles and responsibilities. Without managers to administer projects, it would be difficult for projects to operate successfully. At the same time, the public expects its tax dollars to be used wisely, leading to the need for the state agencies to monitor affordable housing programs.
- Participating in industry groups to get updates, feedback, and a chance to gain some perspective on the challenges facing the industry. State agency staff should be willing to attend local Affordable Housing Management Association meetings to get to know their customers. By being accessible, they may take some of the edge off of the review process.
- Developing consistency in administering the LIHTC program—both within and between states.
A healthy working relationship between the state HFAs and the property management companies is a critical factor in ensuring apartment communities remain in compliance and are able to serve qualified families and improve the communities in which they are located. Being understanding, honest, and willing to work together will ensure the continued success of the partnership between state agencies and property managers.
Brian Carnahan is director of the Ohio Housing Finance Agency's Office of Program Compliance, where he oversees the compliance monitoring of low-income housing tax credit, HOME, and Sec. 8
communities. Carnahan can be reached at email@example.com. Allan Pintner is vice president of Millennia Housing Management, Ltd., an Ohio-based company specializing in the development and management of affordable housing. Pintner can be reached at.