careertrend article image
Tashatuvango/iStock/Getty Images

Certified Occupancy Specialist Training

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Most communities offer low-income residents housing that’s subsidized by the government. This means part of the rent is paid by the government, an amount that's based on the occupant’s income and assets. Qualifying for this assistance is a rigorous process overseen by a Certified Occupancy Specialist (COS) who is trained and certified by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. The HUD handbook, which outlines all the requirements for operating housing projects as well as for obtaining housing assistance, is the “bible” of the industry. Occupancy specialists must study all its rules and regulations.

The Affordable Housing Industry

As rents escalate in many communities, low-income families are being priced out of the housing market. This is where HUD steps in and aids those who cannot afford a roof over their heads. HUD counselors and Certified Occupancy Specialists work with applicants to determine their eligibility to occupy a property and to receive governmental rental assistance, as well as to provide guidance in how to obtain an FHA loan to purchase a property.

Why Certification Is Important

Be sure the training center you’re interested in is HUD certified as it takes a complete understanding of the rules and regulations to pass the COS exam. You cannot become a COS without being certified, and HUD recognizes only the specific teaching organizations that offer COS training.

Experience and Education Count

If you have worked in the low-income sector or have experience with seniors who face retirement without an adequate government subsidy, you have the correct prerequisite to become a COS. Higher education is preferred, but it's not a deal breaker. The ability to listen well, resolve housing issues, and have empathy for applicants while adhering to governmental guidelines are the basic skills for success as a COS.

Courses Offered for Certification

Attending a HUD-authorized certification class is the only way to gain access to the certification exam. Several multi-day courses are available. The National Center for Housing Management’s course runs three days and concludes with a half-day exam. Affordable Housing Training and Consulting and Nan McKay have five-day training classes, both of which lead to the qualifying exam. All training centers have multiple locations throughout the United States.

What You’ll Learn

The key to getting HUD-subsidized housing is to qualify, which is the role of a COS to determine. Verifying income and assets, calculating rent and the percentage of governmental payments, understanding the Fair Housing Act, and recognizing fraudulent claims ‒ all are covered in the courses. You must be able to demonstrate mastery of the material in the HUD handbook and additional class materials to pass the exam. Daily homework supports the student’s understanding of the COS duties.

Taking the Final Exam

The half-day final exam determines the extent of the knowledge that a COS applicant has gained. Unlike many exams, the COS final is returned, not only with a pass-fail grade, but with an outline of the student’s strengths and weaknesses according to the exam answers. Studying these areas is key to pursuing the specialist certification and how to proceed. If you fail the test, you’ll receive a certificate of participation, but not the specialist designation.

COS Average Salary Expectations

Entry-level positions as a COS average in the $30,000 annual range, according to Salary.com. Relevant experience and education are considered when evaluating COS hires, and having either can increase the entry-level salary. Incentives also increase the average base salary, with the average incentive adding about $6,000 to the base salary.