Some earn higher incomes in area public housing

tgrubb@newsobserver.comMarch 10, 2014 

  • Moving up and out

    Public housing agencies offer several programs for residents who want to move into private housing or be more self-sufficient, including:

    • Community Service and Self-Sufficiency Program: Federal rules require residents between the ages of 18 and 62, who don’t work or meet other exemptions, such as having disability, to perform eight hours of community service each month.

    • Transitional Housing Program: Families meeting income and lease qualifications work with housing staff to rent or purchase a private home. As the family’s income and rent increase, the extra money is diverted into an escrow account for use later as a home downpayment, rental deposit or to meet other major needs. Families that don’t finish the program in five years remain in public housing but can face penalties.

    Find more about Chapel Hill programs at bit.ly/1eZuGdy. For Durham programs see bit.ly/1cwkHNH.

— A handful of public-housing families reported incomes over $60,000 last year, as hundreds joined waiting lists trying to get in, records show.

Housing officials said higher-income families are rare, and some also have high medical or child-care bills. In any case, there’s not much they can do: Every family meets the guidelines when they move in, and they can’t be forced out unless they break the rules.

More than 300 families are waiting for one of 336 Chapel Hill Public Housing apartments, including 30 the department manages in Carrboro. Other groups also provide low-cost housing in Carrboro, which does not have its own public housing agency.

The Durham Housing Authority has more than 2,000 families on a waiting list for one of its 1,851 apartments.

Both housing authorities have stopped adding names to their waiting lists.

A 2011 Chapel Hill public housing plan, the latest available, reports an average of 63 households moving in each year. The agency’s average annual family income was $16,679 in January, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development data.

Roughly 17 percent of families have lived there for 10 to 20 years; another 12 percent, for 21-plus years, data shows. The national numbers are 17 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

In Durham, Chief Executive Officer Dallas Parks said tenants moved into 302 apartments last year. The average annual income in Durham public housing is $8,948, and 10 percent of families have lived there 10 to 20 years, HUD data shows.

Three percent have lived there 21-plus years, data shows.

Safety net

Federally funded public housing is meant to be a safety net for low-income families, the elderly and people with disabilities. Roughly 1.2 million U.S. families live in 3,300 local housing communities.

Families meet several requirements, including criminal and background checks, and restrictions based on the number of family members, their annual income and HUD’s average median income (AMI) where they live. The AMI in Chapel Hill and Durham is $65,700.

The maximum a family can earn to qualify for public housing is 80 percent of AMI, or up to $52,550 a year locally for a family of four.

Federal data show 63 percent of four-person families in Chapel Hill public housing and 87 percent in Durham public housing are among the area’s poorest, earning 30 percent of AMI, or up to $19,700 a year.

Another 23 percent and 11 percent, respectively, in Chapel Hill and Durham earn 50 percent of AMI, or up to $32,850.

Fifteen families earned more than 80 percent of the area’s AMI last year for their number of family members, data shows. Five families earned more than $60,000, data shows.

Most pay 30%

Most families pay 30 percent of their income in rent and utilities but get deductions for dependent, elderly or disabled family members and related expenses. A very small percentage earn enough to pay a flat rent based on the fair-market rate for a comparable apartment, Parks said.

In Chapel Hill public housing, the highest-reported income was a two-person family earning $88,382, followed by a seven-member family at $75,113 a year. Vaughn cited privacy concerns in not providing more tenant information.

In Durham, the highest reported income was a family of four earning $118,386, Records show the family has lived there since 1988, has two elderly residents and receives disability income. Other family members work, Parks said.

The next-highest income reported was for a single person who been a tenant since 1993 and earned $54,557 last year.

Many don’t take advantage of programs that could help them move into private housing, Vaughn said.

The reasons vary and include a lack of affordable housing, as well as desire to live near familiar faces and places, she and Parks said. Families also are held back by unstable job situations and the fear of what could happen if the car that both parents depend breaks down or they can’t afford child care anymore, they said.

“We have looked beyond money and know the circumstances” families are facing, Vaughn said.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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