Report: Newark families earning too much for public housing

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on August 17, 2015

A shot of Georgia King Village in Newark's West Ward. A new federal report found that 134 families are living in city public housing units despite earning more than the federal limit.

 

NEWARK – More than 130 families are living in Newark Housing Authority properties despite having incomes that exceed federal limits for subsidized housing, a new report has found.

The data, compiled by a watchdog for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, found that the city had among the largest number of so-called "over-income" families in the country, trailing only New York City, Puerto Rico, Boston and the Virgin Islands.

The 134 families are taking up valuable space in the 6,928 public housing units overseen by the Newark Housing Authority. Meanwhile, the agency has a wait list 15,470 families long, according to the report.

Just behind Newark on the dubious list is Jersey City, which has a total of 131 "over-income" families, and a wait list of 9,813.

The two cities make up more than 35 percent of the 755 families in all of New Jersey who are living in subsidized units despite making more than the federal limit. That figure is the fifth highest in the country, trailing New York, Puerto Rico, Texas and Alabama.

Set by HUD each year, a family must make 80 percent or less of the median income for a given area to qualify as "low-income" and 50 percent or less to qualify as "very low-income." The agency then adjusts rent levels based on a family's income, as well as supply and demand for public housing.

In 2014, the federal income limit for a 3-person family in Essex County was $57,550, according to the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency. In Hudson County, the limit was $54,150.

The report, requested by Tennessee Congressman Phil Roe, found it would cost taxpayers an extra $104 million to keep the 25,226 over-income families nationwide in public housing. It called the issue "egregious" citing extreme examples such as a New York City family of four that earns $497,911 annually but pays just $1,574 monthly for its three-bedroom apartment.

The authors also found that despite the high levels of public housing residents exceeding the income limits, it did not qualify as cause for them to be removed. Under current HUD regulations, income levels can only be considered when residents are applying for the housing, even if they later earn themselves out of a "low-income" bracket.

HUD defended the policy, according to the report, saying forcing them to "could negatively affect their interest and full participation in achieving self-sufficiency", and that over-income families serve as "model tenants" who can show their neighbors a realistic road toward financial independence.

The authors disagreed, however, saying the best example would be to actually leave public housing and open a unit for those truly in need.

"In our opinion, over-income families can serve as role models for other families regarding employment and self-sufficiency activities when they leave the public housing program," the report said.

Earlier this year, Newark Housing Authority Executive Director blamed a sharp reduction in HUD dollars after residents began complaining in droves about lengthy delays in repairs and generally poor conditions.

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