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New law to curb wealthy public housing tenants

WASHINGTON – Congress has passed a law aimed at reducing the number of wealthy people who live in subsidized public housing.

A Channel 2 investigation last year highlighted an issue first brought to light by the Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General.

“If in two consecutive years you exceed the area median income, then you can be evicted or you will have to pay market value or you will have to pay the subsidy that is contained in that unit,” Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, said.

Green represents the 9th Congressional District of Texas, which includes Southeast Houston, Central Southwest, Chinatown, Quail Valley, Westchase, Alief, Mission Bend and Missouri City.

Green voted in support of the bill President Obama signed into law last week.

[Read the full text of the law here]

The new law gives oversight to state and local housing authorities and will make policies more uniform. In the past, each housing authority developed its own set of rules for how long families could stay in housing after exceeding income requirements.

A Channel 2 investigation showed how some families living in public housing in Houston were making well above the income requirements. One family earned $130,000 a year and was paying $600 a month for their taxpayer subsidized house.

Last year, federal records showed 54 families living in public housing while earning more than the income guidelines allowed.

As of Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Houston Housing Authority told KPRC 2 News the number was down to 14. She said it was not clear whether tenants who make more money than income guidelines allow will be able to choose whether to move out or pay additional money, or if the housing agency will make the decision.

Spokeswoman Donna Dixon said the office in Houston is waiting for guidance from HUD because the law is so new.

“You called it to the attention of the public locally and I think you did a good job,” Green said of Channel 2’s previous story.

The Office of Inspector General’s report noted situations in other cities. In New York City, a family making $497,000 paid about $1,500 a month for a three-bedroom apartment.

In Nebraska, a tenant with $1.6 million in assets paid $300 a month in rent.

“We want to see everybody move in and out. We don't want to see people somehow addicted to this," Green said. "We'd like to see everybody have an opportunity to move out into the marketplace."

If you have a tip about this story or another story idea for investigative reporter Jace Larson, email him at jlarson@kprc.com or 832-493-3951.