Columbia Housing Authority recognized as ‘high performer’

BY Eric Holmberg

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Housing Authority was recognized as a “high performer” by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for fiscal 2009. It scored 91 out of 100 on the Public Housing Assistance System to earn that distinction.

About 1,500 of the 3,300 housing agencies nationwide won the recognition. This is about the same number as in fiscal 2008, when Columbia did not achieve “high performer” status.

The improvement in the Columbia authority’s score comes, in part, from the department’s restructuring of its public housing system in 2008, Columbia Housing Authority CEO Phil Steinhaus said.

The goal of the restructuring was to find out which of its specific properties were succeeding or failing instead of looking at the housing agency as a whole.

The housing authority boosted its score in the physical inspection category to 27 out of 30 in fiscal 2009, up from 18 out of 30 the year before. The manager-as-leasing-agent model was not resulting in the best conditions for the residents, Steinhaus said.

The housing authority hired three new managers with supervision experience for its four facilities. The restructured system allowed each property to work independently of the central CHA office, giving a project manager more responsibility and his or her own maintenance staff.

“In essence what happened is people became vested in the properties they managed and the properties they maintained,” Steinhaus said.

The housing authority also reformed its inspection schedule. Every unit is now inspected monthly.

“Once we started that then we starting catching little things before they turned into big things,” Steinhaus said.

Steinhaus described a hypothetical scenario in which $400 worth of damage would drive a resident to move out of public housing rather than paying his or her bill. The authority found that when residents pay for damage in smaller pieces, it retains more residents and collects more money.

Agencies with the “high performer” designation are eligible for a capital fund bonus of $30,000, but Steinhaus said it was not awarded to agencies in 2008. Steinhaus hasn’t heard whether it will be awarded this year.

The Columbia Housing Authority operates 719 public housing units and 1062 Section 8 housing vouchers, which allow residents to find their own privately owned housing.  It provides housing or monetary assistance for 3,500 to 3,800 people at any given time.

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