- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

More than 25,000 families live in government-subsidized public housing despite earning too much to qualify, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s inspector general said in a report released Tuesday.

One family in New York earned nearly $500,000 a year, but paid just $1,574 a month for a subsidized three-bedroom apartment, investigators said. They’d been making more than the maximum amount allowed since 2009, but had never been kicked out of housing.

More than 1,000 families had been taking advantage of the system for at least nine years without losing their housing, the report said.

Overall, investigators found 25,226 families who should no longer qualify but who are still in subsidized public housing, at the same time that more than 500,000 families who do qualify are on wait lists.

“We recommend that HUD direct housing authorities to establish policies to reduce the number of overincome families in public housing, thereby putting as much as an estimated $104.4 million to better use by providing those funds to eligible low-income families in need of housing assistance,” the watchdog’s report read.

HUD officials said those who have overstayed are just 2.6 percent of the 1.1 million families they assist with public housing, and said they’re in no hurry to kick them out because they can be role models for other families.

“There are positive social benefits from having families with varying income levels residing in the same property,” Milan Ozdinec, HUD’s deputy assistant secretary for public housing and voucher programs, wrote in the department’s official response to the investigation.

The agency also might have a financial incentive to keep overincome families in public housing, the report said. Such families encourage other tenants to become employed and self-sufficient, and “promote deconcentration of poverty and income mixing within public housing properties.”

Families were allowed to stay because HUD policies only judge families when they apply for housing, but don’t require them to be evicted once they cross the maximum threshold, the inspector general concluded. There also was no process in place to do follow-up checks on incomes, investigators said.

Fifty-three percent of the total overincome tenants, 13,388 families, had incomes up to $10,000 greater than HUD’s income limits. Forty-seven percent, or 11,838 families, had incomes more than $10,000 greater than the income limits.

The inspectors did not believe that HUD needs to kick out every family exceeding low-income thresholds. But they did say that at the very least, the agency should following up to create “limits to avoid egregious cases.”

The report was ordered by Rep. Phil Roe, Tennessee Republican, who said Congress will investigate closer when lawmakers return to Washington in September.

“It seems to me that we should focus limited taxpayer resources on those with the most need, so I was concerned by the audit’s findings,” Mr. Roe said in a statement.

Rep. David W. Jolly, Florida Republican, called for the agency to enforce existing policy and take the watchdog report seriously in a letter sent Tuesday to HUD Secretary Julian Castro.

“Every American taxpayer deserves to know that their tax dollars are used for those rightfully in need of assistance, and not irresponsibly squandered subsidizing those in the highest income bracket,” Mr. Jolly wrote.

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