Public housing is supposed to provide a place to live for only the neediest Americans.
An On Your Side Investigation uncovered the system doesn’t always work.
We found 384 Ohio households who exceed the maximum income eligibility limit still living in public housing, including three households whose annual incomes exceed $100,000 a year.
The waiting game
“It’s absolutely insane,” said Saleana Young. “I think that’s greedy.”
The single mom currently lives in a shelter. She has been on the waiting list for a Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) unit for close to two years.
She’s far from alone.
Data provided by CMHA shows there are currently 30, 081 people on its waiting list.
The average wait time: 597 days.
In the meantime, federal housing records show there were 48 families who exceeded the income eligibility limits living in CMHA housing in 2014, including a person who listed their income as $137,851.
“It's not fair to us who really need it. It's not fair to those who are homeless. . . it's just not fair,” Young said.
On Your Side Investigators found Stark County has the highest number of overincome families living in public housing of any Ohio county.
In 2014, 58 families living in Stark County Metropolitan Housing Authority (SMHA) listed incomes exceeding the maximum limit allowed, including 20 families who claimed their annual incomes as $50,000 or higher.
“To me, that doesn’t seem fair. But that’s just me. Who am I?” Rosa Mullins said.
The 74-year-old Canton resident lives in Cherrie Turner Towers. She waited about a year to be placed in one of the complex’s apartments.
“Why would you let people stay here when they're making that much money like that?” said another resident, Connie Wright.
She also waited approximately one year for an apartment.
The length of time loophole
The problem goes beyond Ohio.
A federal housing report obtained by On Your Side Investigators shows U.S. public housing authorities provided housing assistance to at least 25,226 families whose incomes exceeded eligibility limits in 2014.
So how does this happen?
Federal rules only require families to meet income limits when they move into public housing.
There is no federal rule to limit the length of time a family can reside in public housing after their income rises above federal limits.
Instead, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allows individual public housing authorities to determine when a family should be evicted because they exceed income limits.
Failure to act
However, Herman Hill, SMHA Executive Director, told us he has not evicted a single family for exceeding income limits since he was hired three and a half years ago.
When On Your Side Investigators asked why, Hill told us he was unaware he had the power to remove families who earn too much money, but said he would review the matter.
“I want to make sure I take a very careful approach to any decision that I make because it would impact the lives of families and certainly we don't want to put anybody on the street because they're overincome,” he said. “So we have to take a very careful and a deliberate and a fair approach.”
Until recently, Hill was also unaware there were families who exceed federal income limits being housed by SMHA.
“I just became aware of the problem because there was some correspondence that I received from HUD. . . that was my first knowledge,” Hill said.
“I'm not violating the law,” he said.
“There's nothing in the HUD regulations that require me to evict overincome persons,” Hill added.
“I feel that this is problem I've inherited and now that it's been brought to my knowledge, brought to my attention, I will address it,” he said.
Hill also does not track the total number of people waiting for one of the county’s 2,546 units.
However, SMHA does track the number of families who apply for housing in each of the seven areas where it provides housing, including 2,545 on the wait list in outlying areas and 1925 in Massillon.
Hill said there are between 2,000 and 3,500 people on the wait list in Stark County and the average wait time for a unit ranges from one year to 18 months.
CMHA considers changes
“It's not for me to tell someone that you have to get out,” said Jeffery Patterson, Chief Executive Officer, Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority.
In spite of the 2004 HUD rule, Patterson insisted he does not have the authority to evict overincome families.
“I think that the way the policy is set up right now is that it does permit individuals who are eligible at the time for housing, at the time they applied for housing, to remain in housing,” he said.
Like Hill, Patterson also failed to track overincome families and was unaware of the issue until HUD brought it to his attention.
However, he said CMHA is currently considering whether they should remove overincome residents.
“We're in process of looking at our policies and procedures as we go forward and we will look at those procedures and if that is the determination that we decide, we'll be moving forward with that,” he said.
Young thinks officials should immediately remove those who no longer meet income requirements.
She currently lives at a shelter. She said it would be easier for her to study for her GED and take care of her teenage son if they had a place to call home.
“Things would be a lot better,” she said.
Low rent on your dime
The Northeast Ohio housing authority directors are far from the only housing officials failing to take action.
The federal government found about one-third of overincome public housing residents have lived in public housing for at least five years.
The federal government estimates taxpayers paid $104.4 million in 2015 for public housing units occupied by those “overincome” families.
The report said there are 1.1 million families living in public housing managed by 3,300 public housing authorities in the U.S.
Ohio ranks 1515TH in the number of overincome residents living in public housing in the U.S.
New York has the highest number of overincome families, with 10,903 exceeding income limits, followed by Puerto Rico, Texas, Alabama, and New Jersey.