NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A FOX 8 investigation uncovers your hard-earned tax dollars are paying rent for people who make more than public housing rules allow.
A federal audit ranks Louisiana seventh in the country for allowing people who earn more than the current income limits to live in public housing.
"The way that these individuals have gamed the system, it's embarrassing for the state, especially being seventh - that's ridiculous," said State Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metarie.
The audit looks at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's public housing program. The audit estimates that, "HUD will pay $104.4 million over the next year for public housing units occupied by over-income families that otherwise could have been used to house low-income families."
"I mean that is astonishing - $104 million to provide housing for individuals who can afford it on their own. That's a simple, complete waste of taxpayer dollars," Henry said.
The audit also found public housing assistance was given to more than 25,000 families nationwide, "whose income exceeded HUD's 2014 eligibility income limits." Nearly 18,000 of those tenants had earned more than the qualifying amount for more than a year. And 682 of what the audit refers to as "over-income families" live in Louisiana. While that might not sound like that many, consider this: The Housing Authority of New Orleans tells FOX 8 there are 5,000 applicants currently on a waiting list for public housing.
"I mean, to have a waiting list of 5,000 people and to have 680 over the income limit, that's embarrassing," Henry said, "We have to have a better system in place now. I mean, the whole point of this program is to have individuals, to help them get back on their feet at a certain period of time when they are struggling, and once you have reached that point, you should move on to non-assisted living."
We reached out to HUD for comment on our story. In a statement they said:
"The law doesn't allow HUD to require public housing authorities to remove families from their homes because these households are on the path to self-sufficiency. The reality is that the vast majority of those who live in public housing are extremely poor with an average annual income of just over $13,000. It's also true that more than half of the households cited in this audit are earning only slightly more than they did to qualify for the public housing they now occupy. We believe public housing authorities need to exercise their best judgment about how to manage their waiting lists to ensure those households who really need public housing have access to it."
The audit recommends that "HUD direct housing authorities to establish policies to reduce the number of over income families in public housing, thereby putting as much as an estimated $104.4 million to better use by providing those funds to eligible low-income families in need of housing assistance."
We reached out to the Housing Authority of New Orleans about the audit. They issued the following statement:
"As written in the aforementioned report,…HUD regulations require families to meet eligibility income limits only when they are admitted to the public housing program. The regulations do not limit the length of time that families may reside in public housing."