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DUBIOUS DISTINCTION! V.I. Ranks 4th in the Nation For Most Over-Income People in Public Housing

robert graham CROP

   VIHA’s Robert Graham

CHARLOTTE AMALIE – More than 160 families are living in Virgin Islands Housing Authority properties despite having incomes that exceed federal limits for subsidized housing, the Virgin Islands Free Press has learned.

The report data, compiled by a watchdog for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, found that the Virgin Islands was fourth in the nation in having the largest number of so-called “over-income” families in the country, trailing only New York City, Puerto Rico and Boston.

The 160 families on St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John are taking up valuable space in the 1,705 public housing units overseen by the Virgin Islands Housing Authority. Meanwhile, the agency has a wait list 836 families long, according to the report.

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 4-person family in St. Thomas was $49,050, according to the website Credio. In St. Croix, the limit was $35,450.
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.

VIHA Executive Director Robert Graham has consistently faced a steady stream of criticism from public housing residents over lengthy delays in repairs and generally poor conditions.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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