Facilities Maintenance for Public Housing is More Than Just Maintaining Buildings
To ensure a safe, functional living environment for residents of the buildings they manage, facilities managers must effectively maintain their facilities’ units, common areas, grounds and building systems (equipment). Like any responsible manager of housing, public or private, their facilities maintenance (FM) organizations must create and actively manage a comprehensive plan to reduce unnecessary costs and maintain quality. They must also take residents’ unique needs into consideration when scheduling and implementing their FM programs.
Creating an FM Program with Residents’ Needs in Mind
Whether the facility being maintained is an apartment complex, a hospital, an office or public housing, the FM plan must accommodate the different needs of people who inhabit these buildings. Even if different facilities have the same physical assets, their annual maintenance plans will differ depending on who uses them. People working and being cared for in hospitals are concerned with the environment of care for their patients. Office workers want an environment that helps them stay productive.
Public housing tenants also have their own unique requirements. One metropolitan housing authority’s mission – “to develop and manage safe, good quality, affordable housing for low-income individuals and families in a manner which promotes citizenship, community and self-reliance” – offers a great example of this adaptive approach.
A Comprehensive FM Program for Public Housing
If you manage a housing authority’s FM program, your plan should include the core features of all good FM programs, plus elements that help you meet your residents’ needs.
Core Elements for All Facilities Maintenance Programs
- An up to date asset list including make, model, and location for all maintainable assets. This tells you exactly what assets need to be maintained so you don’t overlook anything while you are creating or reviewing your PM program.
- An annual maintenance schedule (by week, ideally) for all preventive maintenance (PM), routine maintenance, and routine custodial tasks. This provides a forward look for scheduling the staff who maintain the facility. It also is a great tool for understanding staffing requirements throughout the year.
- Preventive and routine maintenance written procedures (job plans) with work steps, labor hours, skills/trade required, crew size, frequency, with special tools, parts, and/or materials required such as filters or lubricant. These procedures should also include Safety/OSHA regulations and guidelines and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) as needed.
- Contracted services schedule (annual by month) for services performed by contractors. These may require a joint effort with or prep work by the maintenance staff. Contracted services and staff services should be separately scheduled in the Annual Maintenance Plan. The Plan also helps the facility manager know when to be on hand to verify that contracted services were actually performed per the contract.
- Contingency and emergency plans define the roles that facility staff will assume under extreme or emergency conditions. To help them work with staff to make the best of emergency situations, tenants of public housing units should be regularly informed of the housing authority FM’s role and contingency procedures.
- A CMMS (computerized maintenance management system) or CAFM (computer-assisted facilities management) system to systematically manage the maintenance plan. CMMS and CAFM systems can manage the information for weekly/monthly maintenance job schedule as well as the work order management procedures (how work orders are created, issued and completed. They also archive the work order information and key performance indicator (KPI) reports which may include:
- Maintenance costs per gross square foot (GSF) and per unit
- Facility operating cost per gross square foot
- PM work schedule compliance – did we do what we planned to do on time?)
- Work order volume, labor hours and costs
- Inspection occurrences and outcomes
- Other useful indicators depending on management’s objectives.
- A staffing model is driven by the established work demand as defined (by skill, preferably) week to week in the Annual Maintenance Plan. The work procedures should include the labor hours that feed the staffing calculation for weekly staffing requirements.
- Inventory management procedures for maintenance supplies, parts, and materials along with necessary spare equipment. Inventory should be managed systematically by the CMMS/CAFM with a disciplined process in place to maintain the appropriate stock levels based on lead times, availability, carrying costs, and other factors as necessary.
- A communication plan is needed to make sure tenants (maintenance/custodial workers, office workers, residents, etc.) are informed in advance about scheduled maintenance to help keep intrusions and disruption to a minimum.
- A maintenance budget to track and manage expenditures. Budgets should be based on the maintenance activity and associated materials planned for the year plus a reasonable factor for unplanned work based on work order history.
- A training program to provide maintenance skills so the facility staff has the skills they need to do the work.
Considerations for FM in Public Housing
Turnover is lower in public housing [39% vs. 54% for non-subsidized units, per the National Apartment Association’s survey]. This means that subsidized residential units will have to be reset and brought up to HQS status less frequently than for non-subsidized units. Each facility’s turnover rate should be factored into its Annual Maintenance Plan.
- The unique needs of disabled, special needs and senior tenants must be considered, as their units may require additional maintenance activity. These tenants’ needs may also expand the scope of traditional FM services to include occasional (and unplanned) staff assistance with residents’ day-to-day living or mobility requirements. These acts of support and kindness are typically driven by individual staff members, but they should always be with the informed consent of the Facility Manager. It’s important to keep in mind that residents’ special needs and corresponding staff support may impact maintenance schedule compliance and labor requirements for certain tasks.
- Maintenance staff should practice compassion and patience in dealing with tenants who may be confronting serious life issues. Failure in this may result in unnecessary rancor between staff and tenants and result in delays in the accomplishment of maintenance work.
- Residential unit inspection and turnover checklists enable a thorough, consistent, inspection that minimizes staff time in the unit and reduces the risk of overlooked maintenance issues. As with healthcare facilities and pharmaceutical facilities, public housing must conform to specific regulations and standards. Since all assistance program housing must meet the HUD Housing Quality Standards (HQS) performance requirements at commencement and throughout the assisted tenancy, residential unit inspections should be developed to conform to these standards. This will help keep the facility up to standard for the residents’ safety and comfort, as well as the organization’s qualification for government funding.
- Older facilities acquired by housing authorities may be in poor condition and require more maintenance effort to meet and maintain HQS status. This should also be reflected in the facility’s capital improvement projections and subsequent maintenance plan.
- Facility staff in public housing complexes also perform custodial duties. Routine custodial duties should be scheduled weekly based on general estimates of the labor required and included in the annual maintenance plan.
- An often-overlooked burden on public housing staff involves time spent escorting contractors, inspectors and other third parties. While any single occurrence may seem incidental, the time consumed on an annual basis can be significant, not to mention the disruptions that can have a negative effect on work quality and deadlines.
- Maintenance activity in the facility’s apartments should be coordinated with residents to minimize the impact of intrusions into their homes. This will contribute to more effective and timely completion of scheduled maintenance activities and better relations between tenants and staff.
- Wherever practical, public housing facility maintenance programs should explore the feasibility of involving the facility’s community through volunteer programs (such as tending a garden or other activity to improve the tenant experience) or by hiring residents to assist with maintenance and custodial activities that represent minimal risk and require minimal training/supervision.
As we have shown, facilities maintenance staff who serve public housing complexes need to be part mechanic, part custodian, and part social worker. Facility managers must be sensitive to the unique role FM will play in maintaining the facility’s maintainable assets and serving its tenants.
Are you involved in facilities maintenance for Public Housing? If so we invite you to comment below about your experiences and observations.