BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A federal audit has uncovered tax money pays the rent for some people who are earning six-figure salaries. It is more than public housing rules allow. Louisiana ranks seventh in the country for letting people do it.
The U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program was created to provide affordable housing to low-income families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
The federal government audits those who live there to make sure they actually qualify. The most recent findings estimate the HUD will pay $104.4 million nationwide over the next year for public housing units occupied by over income families that otherwise could have been used to house low-income families.
The Investigators looked at income limits for the 682 families in Louisiana listed in the report the government deemed eligible for assistance last year. The Investigators also looked at how much their actual income was and discovered some families excessively exceeded the limits to qualify.
In some cases, tenants earned nearly double the amount necessary to be eligible for public housing. According to the audit, one tenant in St. James public housing was eligible for public housing as long as the household income did not exceed $47,450. But in 2014, the family brought in $85,686. That is more than $38,000 over the income limit. In Morgan City, a public housing tenant was eligible at an income of $35,550. The total reported amount that family made in 2014 was $70,408, $34,858 over the limit.
Some are in the six-figure range. For example, a family in St. Charles Parish earned more than $143,000. In Berwick, which is in St. Mary Parish, for one tenant the income limit based on the size of the household is $35,550, but the total income for that household was well over $115,908. That is more than $80,000 over the income limit.
"What happened is, initially, that particular family in question has been here ten to 15 years. So, overall the housing authorities have income limits when they come in, but the federal government stated, initially, they wanted to change the policy in 2004," explained Clarence Robinson, Executive Director of the Berwick Housing Authority. "We hadn't changed ours so that allowed each particular family to continue to live in public housing. Overall, we saw that it was helping our actual subsidy when the federal government was cutting our subsidy, those income limits helped us maintain our overall subsidy."
Robinson said now that the federal government is requiring housing authorities across the country to adopt a policy that determines rent at a flat rate rather than based on the household income, he is reviewing incomes for the 206 families that live in Berwick public housing.
He said by the beginning of next year, those who make more than the income limits set forth by the federal government will have to move out. He said that includes the household making nearly $116,000. He added, while it will make room for some of the 17 people on waiting list, he fears the new rent rates will ultimately make public housing unaffordable for many of them.