A Florida congressman is threatening to strip $104 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget in the latest dispute over public housing tenants who make too much money to qualify for federal subsidies.
Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) is demanding that HUD clarify what steps, if any, local housing authorities across the country can take to oust these “over-income” tenants. And if there are no steps, he wants the law changed.
While federal officials said this summer that local authorities have discretion to evict tenants who make too much, Jolly said several housing authority directors in Florida he spoke with told him they have no power to kick out tenants who are over the income threshold.
“Three of the five housing authorities I’ve spoken with said they would like to evict these tenants, but they are prohibited from doing so,” Jolly said in an interview Sunday. “HUD is saying they can. I don’t know who is right.”
Disturbed by this apparent contradiction in federal housing policy, Jolly, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, says he plans to take committee action to slash $104 million from HUD’s annual budget. That’s the amount that the agency’s inspector general recently reported is spent every year to subsidize over-income tenants in a sample of 15 local housing authorities.
“There is $104 million of taxpayer money that is being wasted on tenants who shouldn’t be in public housing,” the congressman said. “If HUD doesn’t fix the problem, I’m going to take $104 million out of the agency’s budget.” Jolly also has called for a congressional investigation into the issue.
An audit released in July by Inspector General David Montoya found that in the sample of housing authorities, more than 25,000 tenants made more than the maximum income allowed to qualify for public housing. While many of the higher-earning tenants exceeded the limit by a small amount, the audit revealed that nearly half were over the threshold by $10,000 to $70,000. And some of the cases were eye-popping, such as a family of four in New York City with a $497,911 salary that is paying $1,574 in rent for a three-bedroom apartment in public housing.
The inspector general concluded that some public housing tenants who exceed HUD’s low-income threshold are committing “egregious” abuses and are squeezing out truly needy families.
When HUD was first presented with the conclusions of the draft audit, the agency strongly objected to all of them.
But after media reportd, HUD changed course, saying it would send a memo to thousands of local housing authorities to urge them to evict over-income tenants, since the law does not allow the government to force them out.
“What I saw in that memo is classic Washington: Come up with enough legalese to cover yourself, push responsibility on local housing authorities and you’re done,” Jolly said.
Jolly is a second-term congressman and former lobbyist who represents the Tampa, Fla. area. He is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio, a candidate for the Republican nomination for president.
Jolly sits on the appropriations panel’s subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. After the inspector general brought to light the issue of over-income tenants and whether they should be forced to leave public housing, Jolly asked the watchdog for a list of tenants in Florida who exceed federal income limits and HUD for an explanation of its policy.
The number was 297 families, with several earning more than $100,000 a year.
In a letter last month, Erika Moritsugu, HUD’s assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental relations, told Jolly that the agency “encourages public housing authorities to establish occupancy policies that would reduce the number of egregious cases of over-income families residing in public housing.”
“It is an important policy goal to provide scarce public resources to those who are most in need of deeply affordable housing,” Moritsugu wrote.
That’s when Jolly said he made calls to five housing authorities in his state and discovered that the policy on evicting high-earning residents from public housing is unclear at best.