BOSTON (CBS) – Congress has passed legislation that addresses the nationwide issue of families with six-figure incomes living in taxpayer-subsidized housing.
The controversy was highlighted in an October I-Team report, which revealed some eye-popping salaries around the Boston area, including a family of four with a $228,000 income in Roxbury.
If signed by the president, the reform would require housing authorities to evict families that make at least 120-percent of the area’s median income over a two-year period, or increase their rent so they pay fair-market value and offset any subsidies.
Families would be given six months to find alternate housing in the private market prior to eviction.
The legislation would also mandate housing authorities produce an annual report showing the number of “over-income” tenants, along with the number people sitting on waiting lists for public housing options. In Boston, the waiting list for public housing is approximately 38,000 applicants.
Rep. Michael Capuano (D-7th District) spoke with the I-Team in December about ideas for addressing the problem. The Massachusetts Congressman supports the bi-partisan bill because it provides income limit flexibility to cities with varying housing costs.
In Boston, a two-person household at 120-percent of area median income would make $94,560; a four-person family would be capped at $118,200, according to figures provided by the Boston Housing Authority.
“It helps ensure access to affordable housing for qualified families while at the same time giving those whose income exceeds the limit a grace period to make alternative arrangements,” Capuano said. “This is a fair approach both for families who no longer meet assistance qualifications and those seeking housing.”
The issue sparked debate around the country after a scathing report by the Inspector General of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) cited “egregious” examples.
For example, the report mentioned a three-person household in New Bedford with a $212,845 income, well above the eligibility threshold of $42,950. The family’s monthly rent was only $525.
The report estimated more than 25,000 households nationwide are “over-income” and living in public housing, about two-percent of the overall population.
The families all met income guidelines when they applied for the program. However, since obtaining jobs and earning higher salaries, there has been no mechanism to force families to pack up and move into the private market.
Local housing authority leaders previously told the I-Team the tenants pay higher rents at a time when federal funding is tight. High-earning families also add economic diversity to the public housing developments and serve as good role models, they argue.
But HUD has recently acknowledged the issue needs to be addressed. In February, the federal agency began soliciting public comments about how new “over-income” rules should be implemented.
A spokesman for HUD said the agency received 135 comments on the new rule. The legislative changes will be implemented in the coming year.