HUD hosts NSPIRE demonstration discussion with housing stakeholders

Regulation | June 23, 2020 | by Juliana Bilowich, Juliana Bilowich

In the first of HUD’s new NSPIRE workgroup series, HUD staff hosted discussions among stakeholders and previewed new ideas for adapting the demonstration program because of health concerns.

On June 23rd, HUD hosted its first workshop on the new NSPIRE demonstration program for physical inspections of its assisted-housing portfolio. The workshop featured discussion groups of housing providers, HUD staff, and other stakeholders, including LeadingAge staff and affordable housing members.

Background on HUD’s NSPIRE Program

HUD debuted NSPIRE, which stands for “National Standards for the Physical Inspection of Real Estate,” in the fall of 2019. With the goal of completely overhauling the current REAC physical inspection process and protocol, NSPIRE implementation began as a 2-year voluntary demonstration program for housing providers across the country. NSPIRE inspection scores given to participating properties are advisory only, with the property’s previous REAC score carried over for administrative purposes.

HUD has developed new standards for the physical condition of properties participating in the demonstration program, which will eventually be implemented for the broader portfolio; the NSPIRE scoring model prioritizes health, safety, and functional defects over appearance, and emphasizes year-round maintenance practices at properties.

NSPIRE Demonstration Updates

Physical inspections, either through REAC or through the new NSPIRE demonstration program, are currently on hold due to COVID-19. HUD staff did not provide a COVID-19 update on inspections during the workshop, but LeadingAge is in touch with the agency to request safety measures and delays in resuming in-unit inspections throughout the remainder of the health emergency.

The following demonstration program updates were offered by HUD staff during the workshop:

  • During the workshop, HUD staff stated that they have received hundreds of comments on the NSPIRE standards; members can continue to comment on the NSPIRE standards.
  • The agency is planning a major update on NSPIRE standards by the end of July, 2020.
  • While the agency is still accepting properties into the voluntary demonstration program, they are aiming to close down new participation over next year, or once they reach their 4500 property limit.

NSPIRE Implementation

During its 2-year NSPIRE demonstration program, HUD is seeking participation from 4,500 properties and will select from a nationwide pool of Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) and Property Owners on a rolling basis. Housing providers are encouraged to register one or multiple properties for acceptance into the demonstration, but there is no requirement to submit all properties within a portfolio. Owners can still sign up for the demonstration.

During the first of HUD’s NSPIRE workshop series, LeadingAge discussed NSPIRE demonstration program and implementation with HUD staff and housing providers. The discussion covered:

  • Barriers to NSPIRE implementation, including communication and transparency from the agency. The workgroup also discussed the need for overcoming subjectivity, incorporating stakeholder feedback, and securing adequate funds from Congress.
  • Levels of housing stakeholder support for NSPIRE, including issues around fairness, new resident components of the model, standards and scoring, the 14-day notice period, and how the process will be impacted by COVID-19.
  • Improvements to the implementation process, including improved transparency and communication from HUD, adaptations to mitigate health risks, and software compatibility for housing providers utilizing the new model.
  • Topics for upcoming HUD NSPIRE workshops, including details of the standards and implementation steps, and how the agency will support housing providers in prioritizing resident health and safety during the next phases of the demonstration program.

NSPIRE Self-Inspections

A main component of the new NSPIRE inspection model will be housing provider self-inspections, in addition to periodic inspections by contract or quality assurance inspectors. The agency’s goal is for property owners and managers to self-inspect all units at least once annually and report all deficiencies to HUD.

According to HUD’s NSPIRE webpage, the self-inspections would not be scored like a contracted inspection. Instead, the self-inspection process would help the agency gain a reasonable level of confidence in inspection results, while ensuring that work orders are generated by properties. The discussion covered:

  • Concerns about self-inspections, including how HUD will utilize the information and the method of communicating the information, including software compatibility. The group also discussed the staff burden of conducting 100% unit inspections during the new COVID-19 era, and the risks associated with entering units of older adults and other at-risk residents.
  • Adapting to the health emergency, including a HUD announcement to offer remote video self-inspections (RVI) with residents using video conferencing. HUD staff stated that RVI would be offered to housing providers as a tool for conducting self-inspections more safely, but LeadingAge and other participants shared technological, privacy, and mobility concerns for older adults participating in an RVI program.
  • The need for safety measures, including COVID-19 adaptations for at-risk communities undergoing inspections, whether through REAC or NSPIRE.

LeadingAge will continue to participate in HUD’s NSPIRE workshops and is urging the agency to prioritize the health of older adults living in HUD-assisted communities throughout an inspection process adaptions.