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Some in Fairfax Public Housing Make Six Figures
"It certainly doesn't sound like someone making $200,000 should be living in public housing," said Saul N. Ramirez Jr., executive director of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials. "Their rents should be going up accordingly. If they're making more money, the proportion of that income that they're paying should go up, too."
In Fairfax's public housing program, the median income of the 1,057 households served is $16,404, just under the federal poverty level for a family of three. Twenty-five families make nothing at all. Three hundred make less than $10,000.
But records show that the highest annual household income in Fairfax public housing is $216,325. The next is $136,957, then $112,500, then $105,603 and so on. All told, 111 households -- about 10 percent -- make more than half of the area's median income. Twenty-five households make more than 80 percent of the median income, and 11 households make more than the median income itself.
Citing privacy reasons, housing officials would not provide specific information about families in subsidized housing, including where they live. Sampson did say that the household with the $216,000 income includes a mother and her two sons who recently graduated from college and began working.
"Maybe it's time for the boys to leave the nest and go off on their own," Sampson said. She said her agency encourages homeownership among families with rising incomes, but she was unable to offer data showing how many families have made the jump.
Most tenants are concentrated in county-owned apartment complexes scattered across Fairfax, such as Tavenner Lane in Alexandria, West Glade in Reston and Hopkins Glen in Falls Church. Others are in townhouses or apartments in otherwise market-rate communities.
Jaafar Belahoussine, 24, is one of those tenants. An automotive student at Northern Virginia Community College, Belahoussine lives with his parents in the Tavenner Lane public housing complex in the Alexandria section of the county. His parents work at a nearby Target, making $6 and $7 an hour, respectively. They pay about $900 in monthly rent for their three-bedroom apartment.
"We always thought that if you make more, you are supposed to leave," he said. "And I think that's what you're supposed to do."
Montgomery County public housing has its share of higher-income tenants, too: 37 households out of 1,160 make more than 80 percent of the median income, according to HUD. But none reach the heights they do in Fairfax; 13 households in Montgomery public housing exceed $75,000 a year, compared with 25 in Fairfax. Prince George's County reports no households making more than 80 percent of the median income, and Alexandria reports seven, according to HUD. Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington counties do not operate public housing complexes.
Nationwide, the numbers are proportionally lower than Fairfax's. According to HUD data, less than 2 percent of households across the country make more than 80 percent of the median income.
Public housing is one of several subsidized housing programs operated by the Fairfax housing authority. But the story is the same in the Fairfax rental program, which makes apartments and townhouses available at below-market rates to 1,190 households. The program serves one family making $184,376 a year, another making $145,349 and another making $140,962, county records show. In all, it serves 397 households that make more than 50 percent of the county's overall median income and 166 households making more than 80 percent of that sum. Twenty-eight households make more than the median income.
As with public housing, the county rental program allows families to remain long after they can afford to pay market rates for housing.