A federal audit from the Office of Inspector General reports more than 25,000 families nationwide were considered “overincome” while living in public housing.
The families qualified as low-income when they first applied for public housing and then at some point they started earning more money.
Overincome families are not required to move out of public housing. The OIG report said 70 percent of overincome families nationwide had been there more than a year.
This week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced it is considering tightening the regulations surrounding overincome concerns.
“We estimate that HUD will pay $104.4 million [nationwide] over the next year for public housing units occupied by overincome families that otherwise could have been used to house low-income families,” said the audit findings.
It’s hard to say how much families pay for rent in public housing because the thresholds vary based on things such as location, family size and how much they are earning.
Some overincome families are paying the full rent amount themselves and not receiving a government housing subsidy.
But the OIG suggests they are essentially still tying up a unit that could be allotted to someone truly in need.
For example, FOX8 spoke to a homeless mother-of-three who is living in a Salvation Army shelter in High Point. Tiana Tufts explained, “Everything was going well. I’m a hairstylist and a barber but I, unfortunately, got parttime at my job so I ended up losing my apartment and got evicted.”
She and her children cannot even get on a waiting list for public housing right now; the Greensboro and High Point waiting lists are currently closed.
There are 1,242 people on the waiting list for public housing in High Point with an average wait time of six months to three years. There are 5,771 people on the waiting list for public housing in Greensboro with an average wait time of 18 months or longer.
North Carolina Numbers
Four hundred five North Carolina families were listed as overincome in the report. There were several high examples including one Johnston County family making $101,619 annually. Another Johnston County family made $95,814 a year and had $704,119 in assets.
A Raleigh family was listed with $253,003 in assets. The highest overincome example we found in the state data was in Sampson County where a family was making $343,218 annually ($300,518 over the threshold).
These were all families living in public housing at some point last year, even if they were not still receiving any government housing subsidy. The numbers don’t show how long they were making over the income limit.
The data provided by the OIG does not specifically say family size or identify where the residents lived beyond listing the city.
Local entities with overincome residents in the report included: Greensboro (17 families listed overincome), High Point (6), North Wilkesboro (12), Winston-Salem (3), Madison (3), Mt. Airy (3), Asheboro (2), Troy (2), Mt. Gilead (1), East Spencer (1), New Randleman (1), and Burlington (1).
Many were barely over the income threshold. Those on the higher end included a Greensboro family making $73,097, a High Point family making $66,744, a Madison family making $70,923 a year, and a Wilkesboro family making $65,286 a year.
That summary reflects the OIG data in 2015 and may not represent current situations in individual housing authorities.
The Report is One "Point in Time"
President and CEO of the Greensboro Housing Authority Tina Akers Brown agreed to sit down with FOX8 to explain more about what “overincome” means and why people are not forced to move out after they start making a decent salary.
Referring to the highest examples on the Greensboro list, Akers Brown explained, “That report would have been a point in time. Because our families are so transient, that is not the case today. So you could have somebody overincome today and they’re not overincome tomorrow because they lost their job or one of their children lost their job, a variety of different reasons. So we do not have anybody that has that income level today.”
As of Wednesday, GHA now has eight overincome families in their portfolio, she said, and six of them have been over the threshold for less than a year.
“Some are overincome by as little as $34. So there’s a wide range of overincome families that are served. When you’re talking about eight families total, that’s not a lot a lot of families when you look at the number we serve.”
Akers Brown emphasized GHA serves more than 12,000 people in the greater Greensboro area. The majority of their residents are elderly, disabled, veterans or children.
“The incomes of the families we serve are very flexible. The incomes go up and down over the years for various reasons,” she added. Things like social security, disability and child support may contribute to fluctuating incomes.
Akers Brown also said overincome concerns will become less of an issue as HUD systems are moving toward more voucher-based programs.
Not Required to Evict
Jereon Brown with the U.S. Department of HUD said they completely agree with the OIG overincome audit.
Public housing residents are required to submit annual proof of income so housing authorities can keep track.
Brown said, “State housing authorities have had the flexibility to evict over income residents since 2004. [Last September], we sent out a letter reminding all housing authorities that they have the ability to evict. We’ve also reached out to each of the housing authorities that the OIG identified with egregious over income residents.”
But having the power to evict is not the same as being required to evict.
“There is no regulation that requires housing authorities to evict because a person has become more self-sufficient,” said Akers Brown.
She said, “You wouldn’t want to evict someone immediately because you want to encourage self-sufficiency in the families.”
She said families are able to participate in a five-year Family Self-Sufficiency program and save money while accessing employment and child care resources.
She believes evicting someone as soon as they are overincome could force them out before they are truly ready to be on their own.
The OIG findings said it’s normal to expect families will become overincome at some point, especially as they achieve self-sufficiency as desired.
“We do not expect HUD and the housing authorities to develop policies that would eliminate all overincome families from public housing. However, creating limits to avoid egregious cases seems reasonable,” the OIG report stated.
This week, federal HUD issued a request for comments from local housing authorities. “The agency is considering a new rule to ensure that individuals and families residing in public housing actually need housing assistance should their incomes grow well beyond the levels required for their initial admission.”
The release continued, “Given the urgent need for affordable rental housing in many communities, HUD is considering ways to possibly limit public housing residency to those households that actually require housing assistance.”
Tina Akers Brown pointed out that any major changes would have to come from Congress. She and her office planned to submit their suggestions from a “boots on the ground” perspective.