Under pressure from Congress to do something about unscrupulous landlords, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo said Monday he would beef up housing inspections in 50 cities.
In the Northwest, Spokane, Seattle and Portland are targeted.
Cuomo and Attorney General Janet Reno announced that over the next two months, their two agencies will begin a joint effort to target owners of private apartments who abuse federal housing subsidies.
The two high-level Clinton administration officials said their respective agencies would work more closely to identify landlords who pocket federal dollars they are supposed to pour into their properties, or who maintain apartments that are marginally fit for habitation.
Cuomo accused those landlords of committing a “double crime”: defrauding the government and “subjecting residents to intolerable living conditions.”
He and Reno singled out apartment complexes in Dallas, Indianapolis and New York City, and one north of New Orleans where already HUD has suspended payments or taken over the property because conditions were so bad.
In recent appearances before various congressional committees, Cuomo has been asked repeatedly about HUD’s ability to protect tenants in dilapidated developments and stop the flow of federal money to their owners.
As a result, in the administration budget now being considered by Congress, Cuomo is asking for $50 million for more inspections and more authority to go after property owners who declare bankruptcy when government inspectors begin to close in on their properties.
The administration also is seeking an increase of more than $5 billion to allow HUD to renew expiring leases in subsidized apartment buildings, known as the Section 8 program.
The federal housing agency’s goal is to inspect every unit every year, using either HUD employees or inspectors who work for some of the local governmental agencies that manage federal housing programs, said Assistant Secretary Nicholas Retsinas.
In recent years, inspectors have looked at just 60 percent of the apartments, but Retsinas said that number improved to 90 percent last year.