After Criticism, HUD Says It’s Trying to Give the Boot to Public Housing Families Who Earn Too Much Money

Lisa Rein, Washington Post, August 19, 2015

In response to an unsparing audit by its watchdog, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has flipped its stance and now says it is urging housing authorities nationwide to evict tenants who earn too much to qualify for government subsidies.

The initiative represents an about-face from the agency’s earlier response to the audit by HUD’s inspector general. That review found that more than 25,000 tenants make more than the maximum income allowed to qualify for public housing. The threshold varies depending on local economic circumstances, ranging, for example, from an income limit of $32,750 for a family of four in the District to $14,500 in Mississippi.

Although many of the “over income” tenants exceeded the limit by a small amount, the audit revealed that nearly half were over the threshold by $10,000 to $70,000. And some of the cases were eye-popping, such as a family of four in New York City with a $497,911 salary that is paying $1,574 in rent for a three-bedroom apartment in public housing.

The review, released late last month, said that some public housing tenants who exceed HUD’s low-income threshold are committing “egregious” abuses and are squeezing out truly needy families.

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Housing authorities must grapple with competing priorities when setting policy. Officials say they do not want to discourage tenants from trying to improve their economic circumstances by threatening to evict them if they find better paying jobs, and housing experts have recognized that it is healthier to have people of various incomes living together instead of perpetuating isolated pockets of poverty.

But waiting lists of people who truly need affordable housing are long, and taxpayers oppose subsidizing tenants who can pay market rents.

When HUD was first presented with the conclusions of the draft audit by Inspector General David Montoya’s office, the agency strongly objected to all of them.

Milan Ozdinec, HUD’s deputy assistant secretary for public housing and voucher programs, wrote that “there are positive social benefits from having families with varying income levels residing in the same property” and warned that “amending policies to force over-income families to leave could negatively affect their interest and full participation in achieving self-sufficiency.” He accused the inspector general of “over-emphasizing” a problem when higher-earning tenants represent just 2.6 percent of the 1.1 million families in public housing.

With the audit’s findings gaining public attention in recent days, however, the agency has shifted its emphasis, seeking to underline that the primary goal of public housing is to help those with few other options.

HUD spokesman Cameron French described the agency’s first response to the audit as “merely an initial explanation of facts, not a policy recommendation.” {snip}

Agency officials have begun calling and e-mailing housing authorities that the audit found to have higher numbers of over-income tenants. Federal officials say they are telling their local counterparts that these tenants must leave to make room for the needy.

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