Most of us have grown up to believe that Humpty Dumpty was an egg. But recite the nursery rhyme in your head. Where in that entire 26-word poem does it say he’s an egg? It doesn’t. Our parents or teachers or someone during our childhood told us he was an egg, so we believe it.
That’s kind of what happened to the city of Schenectady and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development over admittedly more complex legal language contained in a recent federal loan application.
When the city applied for the $3 million loan under the Section 108 program, it believed it could use the money to demolish buildings contained on a list of properties it had already owned. But late in the process, some city officials apparently were led to believe by someone at HUD, reading the same set of regulations, that the city could only demolish properties it purchased after it received the loan. After HUD caught some grief for having ridiculous regulations, it double-checked and realized that there is no such language in its own regulations that says the city can’t use the loan to demolish properties it already owns.
All’s well that ends well, right?
Not exactly. The different interpretations of the HUD regulations could have cost the city tens of thousands of dollars unnecessarily by requiring it to purchase properties to demolish that would meet the loan’s guidelines.
The city also would have had to find money in its budget or elsewhere to demolish the remaining properties on its original list.
Even with a modest budget surplus, the city has other priorities besides demolishing properties.
If the federal regulations are so complex or confusing or poorly written that reasonable people with reasonable intelligence and legitimate law degrees couldn’t intepret the language the same way, then the problem that needs to be addressed isn’t the regulations, but the wording of them.
HUD needs to clear up the ambiguity in the rules before another community trips over them and is forced to spend money complying with something that isn’t really there.