NEW BEDFORD — In the city, there’s a family of three earning $58,000 and living in public housing. Another family of two in public housing earns some $59,000 and there’s a family of four earning $46,309. A second family of four earns $102,000, according to the New Bedford Housing Authority.
There’s also, according to the report, one family of three earning $212,000 — and living in public housing.
Those are just a few of the examples of 100 people the federal government says earned more than the eligibility guidelines in New Bedford’s extensive public housing units.
Housing Authority executive director Steven Beauregard declined to provide the full list of incomes for people making more than the eligibility limit.
The statistics about the New Bedford “over income” families were released last month by a watchdog for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. New Bedford has more than 1,756 federal housing units in 44 developments across the city
Even as 100 people are earning more money than the federal guidelines allow, a total of 1,219 families are on the New Bedford waiting list for federally funded public housing, according to a July 21 report from the Office of the Inspector General.
The New Bedford Housing Authority was one of 15 public housing programs targeted as part of an audit by Inspector General David Montoya’s office. The audit was conducted at the request of U.S. Congressman David P. Roe, a Republican from Tennessee, to review the number of families living in public housing whose income exceeded income limits.
Under fire for its regulations allowing over-income individuals to stay in public housing, HUD says it is re-evaluating policies and “taking additional steps to encourage housing authorities to establish policies that will reduce the number of over income families in public housing.”
Currently, the federal government doesn’t have a mechanism in place to phase out people living in local housing developments who are making more than what they earned when they moved in.
Local housing authorities argue that kicking over income people out of the program will “disincentivize” people from trying to improve their situation.
“We want an individual to go out and get a job so she can start to better herself. The idea is that over time, she can earn a living to get off the program. But getting off the program is her choice,” Beauregard said. “These people are doing good. They’re trying. When they start doing better, suddenly their food stamps go away, their health care goes away. They need to transition. Just don’t pull the rug out from under them.”
Local housing officials argue that the focus shouldn’t be on families that are making more money than when they first entered public housing. These families are the success stories, Beauregard said.
“There are people who live with us who make over income,” Beauregard said. “Everyone is income eligible when they come in. Then you work with families to better themselves. Don’t penalize people for doing something good for their family.”
The federal audit found a family of four in New York City making $497,911, but paying $1,574 in rent for a three-bedroom apartment — a finding that local authorities argue is a gross abuse of the housing program.
“That’s a minute number. Should they be there? Absolutely not,” Beauregard said.
Federal authorities say they will issue guidance to local officials this fall on how to implement policies directed at removing over income individuals from public housing.
“We are directly engaged in conversations with the housing authorities identified within the audit as having residents who were over the income limit,” said Jereon M. Brown, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for HUD, in a statement.
Local officials say there should be an upper income limit in place, but their hands are tied without guidance from federal authorities who set the regulations.
Bruce J. Oliveira, chairman of the Board of Commissioners that governs the New Bedford Housing Authority, said “I think it should be addressed and there should be some upper limit.”
“The ‘over income rules’ absolutely need to be overhauled. The priority has to be serving those most in need,” said Mayor Jon Mitchell in a statement. “There is absolutely no justification for a New Bedford family earning $212,000, as identified in the report, to be eligible for public housing.”