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Investigation reveals some families abusing public housing

Posted at 5:24 AM, Jul 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-15 08:45:11-04

RICHMOND, Va. -William has been living in public housing in Hopewell for around a year.

"I was actually homeless," he said, "I came out of being homeless and came into public housing."

He's been facing financial struggles and said the process to get into a unit was not quick.

"I was on the waiting list for three to four years," he said.

Thousands of Virginians are currently on waiting lists to get into public housing.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, public housing is intended to provide rental homes to eligible low income families, the elderly, and those with disabilities.

"We got people struggling, trying to get by," Sheryl, who lives in public housing in Hopewell, said.

A federal audit from last summer found about 25,000 families living in public housing whose income exceeded HUD's eligibility limits.

Of those 25,000 families, 147 are in Virginia.

In Hopewell, CBS 6 found one household on the audit that earned more than $110,000 a year -- nearly $70,000 over the income limit.

"That's unreal," said Sheryl, "I wouldn't make that in 50 years."

"Wow. Why would they be in public housing?" asked William.

Steven Benham, the Executive Director of the Hopewell Redevelopment Housing Authority, decline our request for an on camera interview about the findings of the audit. He would say only one household in Hopewell is currently over the income limit and his office is  working to address that household.

Benham also said he did not believe there was an overincome issue in Hopewell.

In an email, Benham also stated he was not aware of a household that made over $110,000.

He said as of July 11, there were 1,063 people on the waiting list for the city's 360 public housing units.

More than 1,400 families are currently on the waiting list for the housing choice voucher program.

In Richmond, more than 20 families are over the income limit in the audit, including one that exceeded the income limits by nearly $20,000.

Richmond Redevelopment Housing Authority currently has more than 2,800 people on the waiting list, including 937 who are elderly.

RRHA Chief Operating Officer Carol Jones-Gilbert said HUD's rules state that a household only has to be under the income limit at the time of the application process. There was no policy  in place to evict someone who whose earnings later exceeded the limit.

"Currently it's at a housing authority's discretion if they want families, a policy to determine that if families that exceed the income limit at any time during occupancy would no longer be eligible," said Jones-Gilbert.

CBS 6 reporter Chelsea Rarrick asked what the authority would say to taxpayers who look at some of the incomes and were concerned with their tax dollars going towards public housing households that make more money than their yearly income.

Gilbert said that is more of the exception and not the rule.

"Here in Richmond, 89 percent of our population is extremely low income, and only one percent is at over 80 percent of the income," she said.

A spokeswoman for HUD also said much as changed since last summer's audit, and the department is looking at making changes.

RRHA has also put in their policies that they would address over income families.

"We do want to de-concentrate poverty, so we're looking for an income mix," said Jones-Gilbert, "We do want some families who have an employment income or high income."

Back in Hopewell, residents like Sheryl said with so many people waiting to get into public housing, one person over the limit is one too many.

"We may have five families living over here in a car while there's one person living over here that ought to be staying at the Hyatt," she said.