NORTH CAROLINA: Residents skirting public housing requirements - WNCN: News, Weather

NC residents skirting public housing requirements

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

Are people in low-income housing making more than you? How much can they make before they have to buy something on their own?

WNCN Investigates found some people living in public housing who aren't eligible to be there. And some people who are making much more money than you may think.

Public housing is subsidized by the federal government through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD sets rent rates at 30 percent of your income, or residents can choose to pay the going market rate.

The higher your income, the higher your rent; but included in that is your housing, water and sewer, and a discount on utilities.

"Our goal is to provide the best possible housing for people of low means," explained Allison Hapgood, with the Raleigh Housing Authority.

HUD sets unique income limits based on the median income per county, determining who can qualify based on the number of people living in the house or apartment. The limits represent 30 percent, 50 percent and 80 percent of that median income.

Anyone making less than 80 percent of the median income can qualify for public housing. Meaning, for example, a family of four living in Wake County can qualify for public housing if their combined annual income is less than $60,650.

Click Here for a map of central North Carolina's income limits by county.

The average wait time to get into public housing in Wake County is two to four years, but with no guarantees.

"If you look at our waiting list, we have thousands of people on them," said Hapgood. And that waiting list is growing longer and longer every month.

Vanessa Pair is one of the people on that waiting list. She is a mother of four who is homeless. For now, she stays at the Raleigh Rescue Mission.

"On the street with four kids as a single mom, it's hard for us," Pair said. "I've been waiting on the housing authority list for three years."

Hapgood explained, "There is never enough supply to meet the demand."

Although tenant incomes are checked each year, housing authorities across the state say one reason for the long waiting lists is the lack of turn over. So WNCN sent out public records requests to several housing authorities in the Triangle -- including Durham, Raleigh, Smithfield, Chapel Hill and Fayetteville.

The names and addresses of residents in public housing are not public record, but their yearly income levels are.

As you can imagine, the majority of people are struggling to get by, making little to no income. But WNCN found some residents making more -- much more. Some residents were bringing in $50,000, $60,000 and even $70,000 a year.

One family in Raleigh made more than $80,000. Another family in Durham was making $118,000.

So how are these people able to live in public housing?

"You have to be below the income limits when you move in," explained Hapgood. "And if your income goes up while you're in occupancy, it doesn't make you ineligible."

So would they get kicked out if they started making more money?

"No they wouldn't," Hapgood said.

HUD, in Washington, D.C., declined an on-camera interview, but said the housing authorities are mistaken.

"They have discretion to establish a policy to evict once a family reaches the income limit," wrote Jereon Brown, deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Public Affairs.

Yet Hapgood said she had no idea housing authorities have the right to evict. "I've never heard that, and I've been doing this for 27 years," she said.

Tina Vaughn, the Public Housing director in Chapel Hill -- where a family of two is making almost $90,000 -- also refused to go on camera, but said she was unaware of this policy either.

HUD said it all comes down to those income limits that help make up the federal eligibility requirements.

The housing authorities WNCN spoke to were under the impression that HUD's eligibility requirements only applied to people who are first entering into public housing. But HUD said those income limits apply to the applicants the entire time they are in public housing and if they're over the limits, they're ineligible.

Here is the loophole: There is no written policy that tells housing authorities exactly what to do with people who started out below the limits when they applied, but then increased their income.

"I will absolutely do some research on this," Hapgood said. "Obviously no other housing authorities are aware of this."

The number of people making these high incomes is very few compared to the hundreds who are struggling and rely on public housing. Pair said moving those people out would open up that many more spaces to families who are living on the streets and can't afford regular housing.

Until then, Pair and her four kids wait.

"I'm being patient. God says always be patient, so I'm trying to be patient, I'll just be here [at the Raleigh Rescue Mission] until I can get back on my feet," Pair said.

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Jonathan Rodriguez

Born in California but growing up in South Carolina, Jonathan Rodriguez joined WNCN in June 2013 as a digital journalist. More>>

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