Should people be kicked out of public housing for too much money

Should people be kicked out of public housing for making too much money?

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Dozens of families are on the waiting list to get into Knoxville's public housing. Dozens of families are on the waiting list to get into Knoxville's public housing.
Amanda McClean lived in public housing five years ago, but moved out when she said things got better. Now, with five kids to care for, she's trying to get back in. Amanda McClean lived in public housing five years ago, but moved out when she said things got better. Now, with five kids to care for, she's trying to get back in.
At North Ridge Crossing and Nature's Cove, two families made more than 80 percent of Knoxville's average median income. One of them made a lot more: $66,000 a year. At North Ridge Crossing and Nature's Cove, two families made more than 80 percent of Knoxville's average median income. One of them made a lot more: $66,000 a year.
KCDC head Alvin Nance says that families living in public housing often have large income swings. That uncertainty may make some hesitant to leave. KCDC head Alvin Nance says that families living in public housing often have large income swings. That uncertainty may make some hesitant to leave.

By GENE PATTERSON
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - When it comes to public housing, would it surprise you to find out that once you're in, there's no mechanism in place to get you out for making too much money?

It rarely happens, but once in a while it does.

Our sister station WJHL in Johnson City compiled a list of high income public housing residents and found one family in their area that made more than $81,000 a year living in public housing.

The numbers aren't so dramatic in Knoxville, but it still raises the question of if it should happen at all.

Dozens of families are on the waiting list to get into Knoxville's public housing.

To be eligible, you can't make more than 80 percent of Knoxville's average median income. In 2013, that number was $48,550 a year for a family of four.

At North Ridge Crossing and Nature's Cove, two families made more than that. One of them made a lot more: $66,000 a year.

Former public housing resident Amanda McClean was surprised to hear that number.

"Wow, yeah. You think it's for the lower income people for $66,000, you could buy a house," she said.

McClean lived in public housing five years ago, but moved out when she said things got better. Now, with five kids to care for, she's trying to get back in.

"It's hard being a single mom working," she said.

She and her children will have to wait for an opening.

So how is it that a family can make more than $66,000 a year, or another family nearly $54,000, can remain in public housing? The answer is that income only matters on the front end. Once you're in, there are no restrictions on how long you can stay or how much money you can make.

Before you throw your hands up in outrage, KCDC head Alvin Nance says look beyond last year.

"One of those families, they were a little over $6,000 one year in their income that they brought in. But they've continued to go on and find employment and jobs and worked, so their income levels were increasing because they wanted to go on and work and find a job and try to improve the quality of their lives," said Nance.

Also families pay rent based on their income. KCDC says families are required to pay up to a third of their annual income for rent. The rest is paid in federal subsidies. Therefore, the more a family makes, the more they pay and the less burden on taxpayers.

Nance says that families living in public housing often have large income swings. That uncertainty may make some hesitant to leave.

From a management standpoint, Nance says having tenants making more money helps taxpayers.   

"The cost to operate that unit is still the same," he said.

But what about those on the waiting list?

Of the 3,800 housing units managed by KCDC in 2013, 1,100 transitioned to new tenants.

"As people are improving their income, people are transitioning. The fact that we have only two is an indication that people are not staying. When they have that opportunity to move, they're taking that opportunity to move," Nance said.

Nance also pointed out that if the federal government put a cap on what people living in public housing can make while in public housing, it would in fact be a disincentive to work harder and make more money.

He believes most taxpayers would disagree with that approach.

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