Getting back on track is easier said than done for a great deal of PHAs trying to move forward with “normal” operations. Why is “normal” under quotation marks? Let’s face it, things stopped being normal once COVID made its debut. Now that emergency operations have started to settle down, what’s left is to blend normal operations with our new reality. A great example of this is using Virtual HQS Inspections. A successful Remote Video Inspection (RVI) provides the same assurance as an in-person HQS Inspection while also helping PHAs overcome ongoing inspection challenges.
According to HUD, there are 4 key phases to a virtual inspection:
- Administrative preparation
- Pre-inspection planning
- Performing the inspection
A virtual inspection format will allow PHAs to prioritize the health and safety of participants while also being able to tackle the backlog they have accumulated during the pandemic.
Let’s take a look at each of these 4 phases in more detail.
In this phase, a PHA will check whether they need to update their administrative plan before incorporating the technology and requirements for virtual inspections into their current inspection process. Another factor to take into consideration is, are there any locally imposed requirements that describe who can participate in an RVI? Also, what is the back-up process, if an RVI is unable to be completed? For example, a PHA could require a particular unit to complete a free online Lead-Based Paint Visual Assessment Training Course and have them email the certificate of completion to their inspection file prior to the actual day of inspection.
At first glance, this phase may seem the same as the last one. However, while the first deals with updates to administrative guidelines and procedures, Pre-Inspection Planning involves making sure the party performing the RVI has the necessary equipment, understands the process, has communicated to all parties properly, and then actually scheduling the date and time of the inspection.
One key factor to keep in mind is that there are two parties to an inspection. There is the inspector, and then there is the proxy. The proxy is the party performing the RVI, it can be the; landlord, property representative, tenant, or any adult associated with the unit tenancy. The first step is for the PHA to identify whether the proxy has the necessary equipment to complete the RVI. If they do not, the PHA would consider how it will ensure the equipment is provided, or determine whether a virtual inspection is not the right option for this particular participant. Some recommended items include:
- Tape measure or yard stick
- A circuit analyzer to test the low-voltage operation of electrical lines
- A way to test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
- Smartphone or tablet that meets streaming requirements and has a high-resolution camera
- Any additional items the PHA deems necessary
RVIs should be scheduled like any other HQS inspection, using standard procedures and guidelines. However, RVIs differ in that the PHA should also explain what RVIs are, why they’re being implemented, and provide a contact number and email address for tenants to raise questions or concerns.
A few things that could be relatively helpful during this phase…
For The Inspector:
- Have a large monitor or a laptop with a large screen
- Practice before going live
- Have clear directions, or a script, to use while directing the RVI
- Have a smooth approach to each room and unit during the inspection
For The Unit:
- At least 2 bars of decent wi-fi or cell connection
- Easy to use tools to visually show the items the inspector requests
- Have clear and easy to follow directions from inspector
PERFORMING THE INSPECTION
This is probably the most self-explanatory phase of all of them. Once the background work and scheduling are done, all that is left is to carry out the inspection. Because it is done virtually, PHAs will have to adhere to all CDC, local, and state safety requirements.
Each PHA will determine the details of how each virtual inspection will be executed based on the guidelines they have stipulated in their administrative plan. The first step in performing the inspection should be the PHA’s focus and attention to adequate protection of Personally Identifiable Information (PII). Each PHA should provide privacy safeguards in order to protect vital tenant information. A great way to implement this is for the inspector to be in a PHA office or other remote location. The inspector could also use equipment that protects others’ private information during the inspection, like a dedicated device and ensuring they are not on a shared network. Keep in mind that the proxy has already been selected between the PHA, Landlord, and Tenant in a mutual decision. This collective choosing of the proxy is another safety measure that protects a tenants’ PII.
Once the inspection is scheduled, the HQS inspector uses the PHA’s designated platform to contact the proxy and conduct the inspection. The inspector will use the inspection form/procedure the PHA has provided to record any concerns or deficiencies.
If the inspection passes, PHAs will strictly follow its Administrative Plan and procedures. In the majority of cases, they will inform the tenant/landlord, and continue the process to
(1) Process HAP for initial inspection or
(2) Approve the inspection within their system for recertification or emergency issues.
If the inspection fails, PHAs will also follow their Administrative Plan and procedures to inform the tenant/landlord of the failed items, including any follow-ups or additional requirements such as a reinspection, or verification or requirement for Lead-Based Paint (LBP) clearance testing.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
This is only one of many tasks a PHA has to fulfil. Implementing RVIs into standard PHA operations and doing it successfully will make the adjustment to this new normal less stressful.
HUD prioritizes the health and safety of the millions of tenants participating in HUD programs. They want to ensure solutions address the current challenges and improve the safety of tenants and PHA employees alike. PHAs who are committed to navigating challenges with creative solutions will set themselves up for a smooth transition into everything the new normal brings.
You can be this PHA!