What is a Public Housing Authority?
A Public Housing Authority (PHA) – sometimes called a Public Housing Agency, or a Housing Agency (HA) – is a state or local government entity that receives federal funding to administer certain housing programs. The Housing Act of 1937 (the Act) defines a “public housing agency” as:
“any State, county, municipality, or other governmental entity or public body (or agency or instrumentality thereof) which is authorized to engage in or assist in the development or operation of public housing.”
The administrative structure of public housing follows the public utility model which grew out of public administration theory during the first half of the 20th Century. PHAs are instrumentalites of state government. In Florida they are special purpose local governments created under Chapter 421. Each PHA has an independent board of commissioners which sets policy and hires professional staff. Generally, an executive director provides day-to-day leadership. The commissioners of PHAs originally created to serve a municipality are appointed by the mayor; commissioners of PHAs created to serve counties are appointed by the Governor.
Over time, through inter-local agreements, a PHA’s jurisdiction may become much larger than that of the locality for which it is named (i.e. a City or a County). In Florida it is common for PHA jurisdictions to overlap. In rural areas, such as North Florida, regional housing authorities sometimes administer HCV programs over large geographic regions.
Funding – The Annual Contributions Contract
Each PHA must enter into a Consolidated Annual Contributions Contract (ACC) with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The ACC provides for the transfer of funds from the federal government to the PHA for public housing and the voucher program. At the federal level, the Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) within HUD oversees administration of public housing and voucher programs.
Public housing (also known as Section 9 or low-rent housing) is the PHA’s owned-portfolio of rental housing. Each public housing property is subject to a recorded Declaration of Trust (DOT) between HUD and the PHA. Under the ACC, HUD transfers operating and capital subsidies to the PHA; the amount depends on the number of units within the PHA’s portfolio. For decades, the formula for these funds has been inadequate, leading to the physical deterioration of much of the public housing inventory. PHAs which operate a Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program (one of the programs authorized under Section 8 of the Housing Act) receive a basic budget authority with which to issue vouchers. Assisted families live in privately owned rental housing; the HCV program pays a portion of their rent.
There are currently 102 PHAs in Florida. Of those, 21 only operate a portfolio of low-rent housing; 21 only operate an HCV program; 58 operate both; and 4 are not currently active in either program. Beginning in the 1990s, many PHAs began to redevelop their portfolios using mixed-finance methods. Some also began to develop and acquire other forms of affordable housing. The pace of this shift from public housing to affordable housing has accelerated under the RAD program. As a result, some PHAs now own significant portfolios of affordable housing, often in partnership with private sector co-developers. Many PHAs currently operate very little public housing. In time, it’s possible that most PHAs will administer HCV programs, and manage non-public housing affordable housing assets.
Planning & Implementation
Consistent with the New Deal era governance structure, PHAs have a formal two-horizon planning process. Each PHA submits a 5-year PHA Plan to HUD, identifying its goals, objectives, and policies. These long-term plans are implemented through more detailed annual plans. Planning documents and processes are consistent across PHAs. Prior to formally adopting a plan and submitting it to HUD for approval, PHAs must allow public comment and formally engage residents of public housing through Resident Advisory Boards (RABs).
 For example, HCV assisted families living in Manatee County south of the Manatee River may be served by the Manatee County Housing Authority, The Bradenton Housing Authority, or the Sarasota Housing Authority.
 HUD lists profiles of all PHAs in the United States on its website. In Florida, the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies presents the information in a more useful format as part of the Assisted Housing Inventory (AHI).