Investigation reveals high-income families living in public housing

Many families in need remain on waiting lists

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – 22News’ Tennesee sister station WJHL-TV (News Channel 11) is following breaking developments in a Community Watchdog Investigation that showed that people with six figure incomes have been living in public housing.

Two years after News Channel 11’s Nate Morabito’s original report first raised questions about the situation, a federal government audit prompted by his story reveals the problem is far worse than thought.

The Office of the Inspector General performed the audit on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s public housing program at the request of Congressman Phil Roe (R-Tennessee).

Roe learned of the income levels after News Channel 11 interviewed him for their original investigation. kingsport public housingThe audit, which was released overnight, says the federal government will spend $104 million dollars over the next year for public housing units that are home to high income families.

One of the most egregious examples cited in the audit was in Massachusetts- a three-person household in New Bedford had an annual family income of $212,845 in 2013; far above the poverty line of $42,950 for a family of three.

The audit also shows that there are at least half a million people waiting to get into public housing.

News Channel 11’s Investigation started in 2013 at the Johnson City Housing Authority, where they found a family making nearly $80,000 while 200 others sat on a waiting list waiting to get in.

They checked Elizabethton and every other major city in Tennessee, and found similar problems. As a result, Congressman Phil Roe asked for a federal audit.

Just last month, he told WJHL that he expected the findings would be a “bombshell“. The audit recommends that HUD require housing authorities to come up with policies that will reduce the number of overincome families, in turn putting that $104 million to “better use by providing those funds to eligible low-income families in need of housing assistance.”

After the News Channel 11 Investigation, other media organizations across the country did the same investigation. Many housing authorities said the over income people were just a fraction of the total population in public housing.

Auditors say they don’t expect to eliminate all over income families, but they do say that housing authorities need to at least eliminate the worst cases.

Some other examples cited in the audit:

  • In New York City, a four person family living in public housing had an income of $497,000 and that did not include the $790,000 income that the head of household received from in rental income.
  • In Los Angeles, a five-person family living in public housing made $204,000.
  • One person living in public housing in Nebraska had stock, real estate and retirement totaling $1.6 million.

According to the audit, 70% of the overincome families had been living in public housing for more than a year.

According to the audit, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says 1.1 million families receive public housing assistance which is managed by 3,300 public housing authorities.

Once a family is accepted into the public housing program, they may stay as long as they comply with their lease.

HUD says that since the demand for housing assistance often exceeds the limited resources available, long waiting periods are common before a family is able to get into a unit.

Copyright WJHL 2015. All rights reserved.

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