Outrage builds over wealthy families in public housing

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Lawmakers from both parties are outraged about wealthy families who are living in subsidized housing intended for the poor.

As many as 25,226 “over-income” families are living in government-subsidized homes, according to the inspector general for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released in July. Nearly half of them exceed the income limits by at least $10,000.

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Republicans and Democrats say people are “gaming the system” by remaining in public housing long after their incomes have gone up.

"Public housing should be for the needy, not the greedy,” Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) told The Hill.

The House this week unanimously passed legislation aimed at addressing the issue.

The Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act would require public housing residents above certain income levels to either pay the market rate or move out. The Senate has yet to vote on the bill, but it enjoys bipartisan support.

Lawmakers say the bill is not intended as an eviction program, as people who are no longer eligible for housing benefits would have the option of staying put.

“If they want to continue living there, that’s fine,” said Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), who authored the housing bill. “But they need to pay the going rate.” 

"The taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing them any longer, if they can afford to pay,” he added.

The inspector general report indicated the abuse of public housing is widespread. Investigators found one family with an income of more than $500,000 a year that was living in a government subsidized home. Another public housing resident had $1.6 million in assets.

All together, the government is poised to spend $104 million in the coming year on housing subsidies for families who exceed the income limits, according to an estimate from the inspector general.

"There’s no question people are gaming the system,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told The Hill. 

With Congress pushing for action, HUD is considering taking matters into its own hands by evicting tens of thousands of the “over-income” public housing residents. 

Currently, federal law does not prohibit over-income families from continuing to live in government-assisted homes, as long as they met the income requirements when they moved in.

But HUD released an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on Tuesday that could change that.

“Some of those families significantly exceeded the income limits,” HUD wrote in the regulatory notice. “Scarce public resources must be provided to those most in need of affordable housing,” it added.

HUD said it wants to make public housing units available to those families who are most in need, though it warned against evicting tenants who enjoy a “minimal or temporary rise in income.” 

Some Democrats have raised concerns about pushing people out of public housing too soon.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said residents who barely cross the threshold for public housing assistance should be given “special consideration.”

Whereas the wealthier people who are living in public housing can fend for themselves, said Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. 

"If someone is living in public housing making a quarter of a million dollars a year, they should not be living there,” Butterfield told The Hill.