AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Should 666 Georgia families be kicked out of public housing?

Eviction day could be coming for 666 Georgia families, but not because they haven't paid their housing bill.

It's because they make too much money. Georgia housing agencies have allowed the families to stay in public housing even though they make too money to qualify, says a recent report from HUD's inspector general.

It's an issue across the nation, and one that has drawn outrage. HUD will pay more than $100 million over the next year to house people who could afford to live elsewhere. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of low-income families are on waiting lists for public housing. If the more well-to-do families weren't in about 25,000 HUD units, more of the poor might be able to move in.

The inspector general contacted 15 housing agencies nationwide to ask why they let "over-income" families stay. Basically, it boiled down to the fact that HUD doesn't require that they be evicted. As a result, HUD will pay more than $100 million over the next year to house them.

Nationwide, most of the over-income families had lived in public housing for years, the report says. By allowing the families to stay, the housing agencies said they reduce the concentration of poverty in the housing and have families that can be role models because they show self-sufficiency, HUD itself bristled at the inspector general's scrutiny. Among its objections was that if all over-income families had to move out, it would need another $116 million in subsidies a year to operate.

That didn't wash with the inspector general. "We do not expect HUD and the housing authorities to develop policies that would eliminate all over-income families from public housing," it responded. "However, creating limits to avoid egregious cases seems reasonable."

What's egregious? How about the Los Angeles family of five with an annual income of $204,784 - almost three times the low-income threshold. Or the three-person housing in Massachusetts with an income of $212,845, while the low-income threshold was $42,950.

You can find the report here.

In the latest twist, despite their initial push-back over the inspector general's audit, HUD officials said they will urge housing authorities to tell the overincome families to move out, according to news reports. No word yet on whether Georgia authorities will follow through.

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About the Author

Lois Norder is Senior Editor for Investigations in the newsroom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.