By Becky Bower
Late last year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) got into hot water when it was discovered that more than 25,000 over-income families live in public housing, some of which are millionaires. According to the Inspector General’s report, the auditors found that, despite the more than 300,000 qualifying families on waiting lists, HUD has no intention to kick these over-income families out. This is because, as the investigators stated, “since regulations and policies did not require housing authorities to evict over income families or require them to find housing in the unassisted market, [they] continued to reside in public housing units.” On February 2, the House of Representatives voted to add an amendment to the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act, aiming to end the fraud within HUD which has allowed millionaires to stay in section 8 housing. That being said, how to enforce the evictions of wealthy residents has been left up to debate.
Requesting that a proposed rule be left for comment, the proposed action of evicting over income families has been met with lots of criticism. Saul Ramirez of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials even refers to the action as “the Trump syndrome,” saying the proposal suggests “let’s go bang on people who can’t defend themselves and take an issue in the wrong direction.” In a less overt way, Sean Rogan of the HA of the County of Los Angeles commented that “over-income policies are contrary to HUD’s original position of deconcentration.” New York City HA’s (NYCHA) Shola Olatoye agrees, stating that “the goal of removing higher-income families from public housing conflict with 3 of HUD’s policy priorities: incoming mixing in public housing, affirmatively furthering fair housing, and increasing access to communities of opportunity.”
While many had addressed concern that the original goals of HUD and this proposal do not align, Patricia Silcox of the Fort Oglethorpe Housing Authority has different sentiments, saying “…either you are in need or you are not. There should be no gray area.”
Despite the mixed feelings, many have answered HUD’s questions on what to enforce. Questions such as how HUD should define income that “significantly” exceeds the income limit, if living or family finances should be taken into consideration, and at what point (in time) should the family be considered over the income limits have been met with different points of view. For example while Andrew Lofton of the Seattle Housing Authority suggests that HUD use the same requirements as in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program (currently households at or above 140% of Area Median Income), NYCHA recommends that HUD allow each PHA (public housing authority) to set an income limit at which households could afford market rate housing. I’ll leave it up to you to determine which policy is better.
As the opinions on this proposal has varied heavily, there are few comments that address how PHAs will be able to access the data necessary for making the eviction decision. Mary Beth Parker proposes on behalf of Equifax that “HUD enable PHAs access to and require PHA utilization of up-to-date third party employment and income data to assist with the verification of current income at the onset of application and for annual redeterminations as a means to automate current income verification, document eligibility and improve public housing program integrity.” By re-screening residents, PHAs will be able to have the necessary income data to determine whether or not a household is over income and should be evicted.
When a family of four in New York makes $497,911 annually but pays $1,547 a month to live in a 3-bedroom apartment in public housing, subsidized by taxpayers, you know there is a problem. How to solve this problem is another matter. Whether you agree with the core action of this proposal or not, if enacted, it will significantly change section 8 housing. Depending on how HUD reacts to the comments from the public (closes April 11), it might not be for the better.
Do you think over income residents should be evicted out of low income housing? If this proposal passes, do you think it will affect you and the rental market? Let us know your opinion in the comments section below and be sure to subscribe!
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