Relocation Retrospective Study
The Relocation Retrospective Study was prepared in 1996 for the Federal Highway Administration, Office of Real Estate Services. The purpose of the report was to determine the living conditions and location of project relocatees in the years immediately following their displacement, and to review current policy and practices to identify areas of the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act of 1970, as amended, that may require change or review by FHWA, as the Lead Agency.
The findings and recommendations are that of the independent contractor and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Highway Administration. Overall, the report is sound, affording options and recommendations for complex relocation problems. The report is divided into two categories, findings and recommendations. The study included all three phases of the program: residential owners, residential tenants and businesses.
Residential Displacees (owners). The study attempted to identify weaknesses in the existing program to include a discussion of unreimbursed costs to the owner. Four areas were identified for discussion: increased real estate taxes, increased utility costs,advisory services and a minimum rent-free period of occupancy granted by the acquiring agency.
- Taxes and Utilities. Taxes and utility adjustments to owners was considered by FHWA during the writing of 49 CFR Part 24. There was very little support and FHWA elected not to include these adjustments as relocation benefits. In most instances where an increase occurs, it is the choice of the displacee to relocate into a larger or more expensive house. The inclusion of real estate taxes and utility costs to owners would require a regulatory change which FHWA does not consider warranted at this time.
- Advisory Services. FHWA agrees with the report finding that this area requires continuous emphasis and monitoring. Advisory services is the basis for building a good relationship between the displacing agency and the relocatee. Strong emphasis is placed on advisory services in all FHWA relocation courses, technical assistance visits, reviews and seminars. FHWA encourages that advisory assistance be offered throughout the move with special emphasis given to negotiating the price of a replacement home, assistance preparing loan applications and decent , safe and sanitary inspections of the replacement dwelling.
- Rent-Free Period. FHWA considers this a State or Federal agency internal decision and does not plan to recommend a regulatory change. However, a rent-free period is an excellent public relations tool that promotes better relations between the displacing agency and the relocatee.
Residential Displacees (Tenants). The primary focus was on the issue of large rental subsidy payments in the form of superpayments. The report identifies the primary causes of superpayments as the 30% rule, subsequent occupants and the lack of use of alternatives. FHWA agrees that the suggested solutions, modification of the 30% rule or a change in the concept of using comparable replacement dwellings in last resort situations, have merit. However, both solutions would require a regulatory change and possibly a revision to the Uniform Act.
- Superpayments. FHWA's position is that all alternatives as stated in 49 CFR 24.404(c)(1), Housing of Last Resort, should be explored before making a superpayment. It is a historical fact that large rental payments are the most expedient and easiest to use. FHWA encourages the use of installment payments, escrow payments, etc., as a means of reducing the possibility of fraud, waste and abuse. The Relocation Technical Advisory Board (RTAB) endorsed a regulatory change to 49 CFR 24.402(b)(3), Manner of Disbursement, that would allow more flexibility in avoiding lumpsum payments.
- The Thirty Percent Rule. FHWA acknowledges that the 30% rule needs Lead Agency review and, most likely, a regulatory change. The Relocation Technical Advisory Board in both 1996 and 1997 reviewed this issue and recommended a regulatory change. HUD is now allowing local housing authorities to deviate from the 30% requirement in certain situations. FHWA as the Lead Agency is committed to additional study and coordination with HUD to determine the feasibility of changing the 30% rule.
- Subsequent Occupants. Subsequent occupants are considered tenants of less than 90 days. Subsequent occupants, as considered in this report, are tenants who occupy a rental property subsequent (after) the initiation of negotiations. FHWA advocates paying rent to the property owner until the parcel is purchased by the acquiring agency. This is a good business practice that avoids paying additional relocation benefits.
- Using Comparability as the Standard for last Resort Computations. FHWA disagrees with the recommendation of using decent, safe and sanitary standards as opposed to comparability in housing of last resort situations. The Uniform Act requires comparability. Therefore, to adopt this recommendation would require a change to the Act. The regulations currently allow some latitude in comparability when using housing of last resort. 49 CFR 24.404(c)(2) as well as the corresponding reference in the Appendix, gives specific examples when something less than comparability is allowed.
- Down Payments. FHWA's position is to encourage the use of down payments for tenants. It was clearly the intent of Congress to encourage tenants to become owners.
Business Displacements. Three areas were identified as warranting review; reestablishment expenses, searching expenses and advisory assistance. As noted in the text of the report, any change in the $10,000 reestablishment expense cap requires legislative action. FHWA does not endorse reimbursing displaced business for costs incurred for meeting local code requirements as a moving expense under 49 CFR 24.303. We consider these costs eligible under 49 CFR 24.404, as reestablishment expenses.
- Reestablishment Expense. FHWA's position is to maintain the $10,000 maximum payment. FHWA's review of the 1996 and 1997 national statistics indicated the average reestablishment payment to be approximately $8000. Congress has clearly stated in the statute that the reestablishment payment was for small businesses. Until there is more convincing evidence of a need for an increase, FHWA will not lobby for a change. Any change will require a revision in the Uniform Act.
- Search Expense. FHWA agrees with the report that no increase is warranted. The reason some businesses claimed ignorance of the payment is unknown. Search expenses are discussed in detail in FHWA's relocation brochure, Your Rights and Benefits as a Displaced Person, as well as in State relocation brochures. The search expense provision of the regulation is also discussed in FHWA's right-of-way relocation courses.
As mentioned earlier, FHWA considers the report to be sound, affording options and recommendations for complicated relocation problems. However, many of the recommendations require both regulatory and Uniform Act changes. Any conclusions based on external studies are not endorsed by the Federal Highway Administration.