Congressman: I-Team investigation proof change needed - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Congressman: I-Team investigation proof change needed in public housing

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A U.S. congressman says a Channel 4 I-Team investigation is proof changes need to be made to the nation's public housing system. We told you Monday about some of the tenants the I-Team found living in Metro subsidized apartments and the high incomes they're pulling in.

On Monday, the Channel 4 I-Team reported some families living in Nashville's public housing system earn more than $81,000 a year while thousands of people remain on a waiting list hoping to get into those very homes.

Now, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-TN 1st District, says he plans to show federal officials what the Channel 4 I-Team uncovered in his fight for a federal investigation into the public housing system.

"We got to tighten it up, and I don't think anyone realized it until you guys, the media, took it upon yourselves to do the story. I think it's going to do people and Nashville and all over the country a lot of good," Roe said.

Roe said he asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's inspector general's office to do a federal investigation after Tri-Cities TV station WJHL found the same thing happening in their public housing system. Roe says HUD hasn't gotten back to him about that request, but he plans to follow up and show federal officials what the Channel 4 I-Team uncovered.

A spokesman for the inspector general's office for HUD told the Channel 4 I-Team they can neither confirm nor deny that an investigation is taking place.

Some tenants in Metro public housing earn as much as $80,000 a year

Thousands of people are on a waiting list to get into public housing in Nashville, but you might be surprised to see who the Channel 4 I-Team found living in Metro's subsidized apartments.

About 4,000 people, including Keith Birch and George Gober, are on the waiting list for the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency.

Birch and Gober are currently living on the streets, having been homeless for about two years.

"This is no life, not for a human being," said Gober.

They've been approved, but have remained on a waiting list for months. Now, they're just waiting for a vacancy to open up.

"Because there are already 4,000 people on it at last application, we shut it down," said MDHA spokeswoman Holly McCall.

But, when the Channel 4 I-Team made a public records request for the annual incomes of current MDHA tenants who earn more than $40,000 a year, we uncovered that some renters are pulling in as much as $81,000 a year. That's more than the median income in Davidson County.

"I'm more than shocked. I'm devastated. That's ridiculous," said Gober.

"I wish I was making half that," said Birch.

The Channel 4 I-Team found renters in the system making anywhere from $44,000 to over $51,000 a year who don't even have children. Then there are cases in which an adult with one child is making nearly $55,000 a year or two adults with a child are making nearly $74,000 a year.

"The qualifications were set by HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). We, unfortunately, have almost zero discretion in how we set this. We receive all our funding from the federal government from HUD," said McCall.

The Channel 4 I-Team asked HUD if there are any plans to make changes to the system.

"Even though there are concerns about higher income families living in public housing, I am not aware of any HUD-proposed regulatory changes, as the provision for flat rent is regulatory and designed to encourage self-sufficiency and to avoid creating disincentives for continued residency by families who are attempting to become economically self-sufficient," said HUD spokesman Ed Ellis.

Ellis added that, "As the flat rents increase to match the market rents, families often move, because they can get newer units at other locations for the same amounts. It's a balancing act that [housing agencies] have to perform. One, keeping the rent levels in line so lower-income families are not priced out of the market; and two, keeping the flat rents in line with the market so families with higher incomes are paying their fair share."

"There's 79 people out of, I think, more than 10,000 who make more than $40,000. So even if all 79 of those left, we'd still have 3,921 people waiting for public housing," said McCall.

But Birch and Gober say that's 79 spots that could help people who don't even have a roof over their heads, like them.

McCall said public housing tenants only have to make less than the income requirement when they first apply.

"You can't make any more than 80 percent of median income in Davidson County, so what that means is one person can't make more than about $35,500 when they apply to get in," said McCall.

For a family of two, it jumps to about $41,000 a year. A three-person household can't make more than $46,000 a year, and the list goes on, depending on how many family members you have.

But, once you are in the system, there is no income ceiling. MDHA can't kick you out no matter what you earn in a year.

"We can't discriminate against people from getting raises, basically," said McCall.

So, what would MDHA say to all those on the waiting list who may be in dire need like Birch and Gober?

"I'd say I wish we had more housing," said McCall.

"There's people that need housing, and there's people taking advantage of it," said Gober.

"I need the help," said Birch.

About 13 of the families on the list making more than $40,000 a year are living in housing for the elderly and disabled. MDHA says it does have a policy that states if you get a raise or a boost in your annual income, you are supposed to report it and your rent will go up.

If you don't report it and you get caught, MDHA will back-charge you, according to the policy.

You might be wondering what kind of rent tenants in Metro public housing are paying. Those making less than $5,000 a year pay as little as $50 a month.

Others were told pay around 30 percent of their annual income. So, if you make $30,000 a year, your rent would roughly be $750 a month.

But, that rent would be lowered depending on how many dependents you have. Plus, some public housing complexes have a rent cap on their units, meaning a tenant wouldn't pay more than $395 a month in some cases.

For other complexes, that price for a one-bedroom apartment would be capped around $550 a month.

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