How to Conduct Effective Recertification Meetings for Mixed-Use Sites
The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA) eliminated the annual income recertification requirement for 100 percent buildings. Each state agency, however, may opt to tighten the rule and impose its own recertification requirements. For mixed-use tax credit sites, owners are required to meet with low-income households to recertify their incomes and determine whether the site needs to follow the available unit rule because any household went over income.
To do this right, it’s important to make sure you get complete and accurate information from your households. But site staff may be poorly prepared and may not know what the HUD Handbook’s requirements are or which topics they need to cover. Or site staff may waste time by rehashing the material they covered in the initial certification meeting. And they may fail to inform households correctly about the households’ responsibilities. The result: You don’t get all the information you need to recertify households properly.
To help you follow this advice, we’ll give you a rundown on the best way to prepare for and conduct a recertification meeting, what topics to cover, and what forms household members must sign. We’ve included a Model Form: Recertification Meeting Checklist that you can copy or adapt for use at your tax credit site to ensure effective recertification meetings.
Steps to Prepare for Recertification
Here’s what to do before you meet with household members.
Give proper notice. You should send reminder notices to the household 120 days, 90 days, and 60 days before the recertification deadline. And be sure to tell households that all household members age 18 and older must attend a meeting conducted by a staff member. This is because the HUD Handbook requires all adult household members to sign the verification forms [HUD Handbook 4350.3, par. 3-11].
Tell households what information to bring. In the notices, tell households what information to bring to the meeting. To save time later, send recertification questionnaires along with the notices. The questionnaires should ask for the information you’ll need to recertify the household, including household composition and all sources of income and assets. Getting this information in writing can also be helpful later if you discover that the resident gave you incorrect information.
The questionnaires should ask households whether they have any of the specific kinds of income and assets that HUD requires you to count when determining annual income and, if so, how much of each. Ask households to bring the completed questionnaires to the recertification meeting. By reviewing households’ answers, site staff can make sure they’ve covered all the bases.
In addition to the completed recertification questionnaire, tell the households what other documentation they should bring to the meeting, including addresses and other contact information for all income sources.
Select meeting location. Recertification meetings should be held in a private location, such as behind closed doors in an office or conference room. You should never hold recertification meetings in open waiting areas because this violates HUD’s requirement that you ensure the confidentiality of information that households give you [Handbook 4350.3, par. 5-19].
Use Checklist to Ensure Consistent, Thorough Recertifications
You’ll need to cover many topics at your recertification meetings with households. To ensure that site staff cover all important topics, use a recertification checklist. Ask site staff to check off each topic in the box provided, after they’ve gone over the topic with households. That way, you’ll have a record of what occurred at the recertification meeting. For example, if you’re evicting a household for concealing income or assets, you can point to the checklist to show that you discussed the household’s duty to disclose income and assets with household members and explained the penalties for not doing so. This could help you defeat a claim by household members that they didn’t know about or understand their disclosure duties.
Your checklist should also include scripts telling site staff exactly what to say. This way, you ensure that all households get complete and accurate information, even if the site staff member doing the interview is inexperienced. A script also helps you reduce your exposure to fair housing complaints that might result from site staff’s describing the rights of residents and households differently to different households.
Ask Households About New Household Members, Income, Assets
Here’s what you need to cover during annual recertification meetings:
Explain recertification process. First, give households a brief overview of the recertification process. Doing this before you ask specific questions about income and assets emphasizes to households the importance of complete, honest answers.
Remind households about the verification process and the penalties for giving false information in recertification meetings.
Ask households about new members or departures. Get the names of any household members who have moved in or out since the last certification or recertification. Many tax credit managers require households to get their approval before new members move in and to report move-outs when they happen. If a household’s size changes, you may need to follow the available unit rule or recalculate the household’s rent. If households haven’t told you about such changes already, now is the time to get this information.
Review recertification questionnaire. Next, ask households about the income and asset information they gave in the recertification questionnaire. Don’t try to do this with broad yes or no questions such as “Is the information in the questionnaire accurate?” or “Do you have any income or assets?” Broad questions aren’t as likely to get the accurate answers that more specific questions will.
Instead, ask specifically about each kind of income and asset listed on your site’s recertification questionnaire, such as employment income, bank accounts, and welfare or work-related benefits. Be sure to confirm the address and contact information for each source of income and assets. If your site doesn’t use a recertification questionnaire, ask the household about each type of income listed in HUD Handbook 4350.3, Exhibit 5-1, and each of the assets listed in Exhibit 5-2. Our checklist assumes that sites use a recertification questionnaire to ask households about their income and assets.
HUD requires you to get a written certification from households, saying whether they’ve disposed of any assets for less than fair market value within the past two years [Handbook, 4350.3, par. 5-7(G)(8)]. So our checklist reminds staff to ask households about this and to get a written certification.
Always finish by asking two catchall questions. The two questions are: “Does your household have any other sources of income?” and “Does your household have any other assets?” These questions help you tie up loose ends with households that are being honest with you. Also, they help keep less honest households from later claiming that they would have told you about other income or assets if only you had asked them.
Get Verification Consents
Get household members to sign all the required third-party verification forms, based on the information households provide. You must then give the household a copy of each third-party verification form they’ve just signed [Handbook 4350.3, par. 5-15(A)].
Also, ask households to let third-party verification sources know that the verification form will be arriving, and to urge them to fill it out and promptly return it. Many households are happy to do this if you explain to them that it may speed the recertification process.
Other Topics to Cover
In addition to getting information to certify household income and determine assistance and rent, you should also use the meeting to go over the following topics:
Notice of rent increase. If the household’s rent has increased as a result of changes in income limits, you should notify the household in writing of the amount of the increase.
Notice of next year’s recertification. If you’re also renewing the household’s lease at the same meeting, it’s a good idea to give the household written notice of next year’s recertification deadline so households are on notice. Have the household sign the notice, and keep the original in the household file.
Compliance with student rule. If all household members are full-time students and don’t fall within any of the student rule exemptions, they might be ineligible to continue occupying their low-income unit.
Changes to house rules, regulations. Use this opportunity to review any changes to your house rules. Also, tell households of any new regulations that affect them, and give them any other notices required by law.
See The Model Tools For This Article
|Recertification Meeting Checklist|