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Loophole allows families who exceed income limit to live in public housing

Florida experiencing public housing shortage after Hurricane Maria

ORLANDO, Fla. – Thousands of people fleeing into Florida from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria has created a challenging finding affordable housing for these families in need.

State officials believe 170,000 people have left the island for Florida, and more are expected.

Among the biggest challenge for organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency is finding housing for the thousands of new Florida residents.

One option is public housing, designed to give low-income people an affordable roof over their heads.

But in Central Florida, public housing options are limited.

The Orlando Housing Authority has 24,000 families on a wait list. And while OHA officials said people migrating to the City Beautiful have priority over most Florida residents, News 6 also found that some families who are "over-income," earning well above what's required for a family to get into public housing, are still living in public housing apartments.

News 6 obtained the list from the OHA showing more than a dozen over-income families. The list shows a family of five earning $63,331 a year; a family of three earning $74,572 a year; and another family of three taking in $84,070 a year.
 
That doesn't sit well with Jacqueline Rosa and her daughter, who fled Puerto Rico to live in Orlando after Hurricane Maria heavily damaged their home. For the last 10 days, they've been living in a hotel. 

"I have no home. I'm homeless," Rosa said.
 
Over-income families are allowed to live in public housing all because of a loophole,  according to federal rules made by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Families only have to be low-income to get into public housing, but once they're in, they can often stay no matter how much their income grows.
 
"I have no words, I have no words because I'm in such need right now," Rosa said. 
 
Officials from the Orlando Housing Authority said that when a family is over-income and living in one of its apartments, the family is given six months to find other housing before they're booted.

A complaint was filed earlier this month against Orlando City Commissioner Regina Hill alleging that Hill lives in a low-income apartment complex even though she makes more than $60,000 per year as a commissioner.

To view the households that are over-income in the Orlando Housing Authority, click here.
 
But News 6 found other public housing authorities in Central Florida that allow over-income families to stay for as long as they like, including the Cocoa Housing Authority. Herb Hernandez, Cocoa Housing Authority executive director, said it has one tenant who's over-income making about $65,000 a year.

"In our mind, she is a role model," Hernandez said, adding that other tenants who know her and see her make money look up to her.

In 2014, HUD audited each housing authority and found that there are more than 25,000 over-income households nationwide living in public housing. As a result of the nationwide audit, HUD officials asked for the public's opinion: Should HUD allow over-income individuals or families to remain in public housing?

HUD closed the comment period in March 2016 and it received just over 130 comments. But two years after the poll and audit, HUD told News 6 that no officials decision has been made. 

"HUD is in the process of reviewing the comments received, and determining how best to proceed," HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan said.