Federal law guarantees some families making six figure incomes will continue to live in taxpayer owned public housing.
7 On Your Side reviewed records provided under the Freedom of Information Act which show one couple in Greenville earning more than $160,000 a year. Several families earn twice as much as the median income.
Public housing is a federal program designed to provide shelter to some of the neediest people.
Curtis Bailey lives in the Brookhaven Apartments in Greenville. The property is owned by the Greenville Housing Authority and, for Bailey, it’s almost a miracle. He was homeless before moving in.
“It was rough staying at the Salvation Army,” Bailey said.
Taxpayers subsidize Bailey’s home while he struggles to find work.
Some of his neighbors do much better. 7 On Your Side asked the housing authorities in Greenville and Spartanburg to provide details about how much every tenant in public housing earns. The documentation provided does not give out any personally identifying information, like names or home addresses, but is simply a list of annual incomes.
In Spartanburg County, where the median income is about $37,000 a year, the documents showed a family in a single bedroom apartment earning more than $74,000 a year.
In Greenville County, one couple earns $161,000.
“A man who needs to be here can’t get it because a man who’s got money is living here? That’s kinda wrong,” Bailey said.
“We do realize there is a shortage of affordable housing, so when families reach that current state we do encourage those families to move out,” said Ivory Matthews, director of the Greenville Housing Authority.
“They can always say no,” she added.
Under the law, families do have to qualify for public housing and meet strict income guidelines. Once they move in, they can’t be forced out based on income. Meaning, no matter how much money someone makes they have a right to remain in taxpayer owned public housing.
That means there is very little turnover in public housing units. In Greenville, the housing authority stopped adding names to the public housing wait list four years ago. There are still nearly 45 hundred families on that list including 12 hundred people still waiting to move in next to Curtis Bailey at the Brookhaven Apartments.
“I think most South Carolinians don’t mind helping someone who is down on their luck, poor, and needs a place to stay and give them some subsidies but nobody in South Carolina and the country wants somebody making $160,000 a year living in public housing,” said Senator Lindsey Graham.
Bailey said nobody will have to force him out. If he hits it big, he’s ready to go.
“You say I hit the lottery today for $50 million dollars and they can’t throw me out? I ‘d throw myself out,” Bailey said.
Senator Graham’s staff said they contacted the US Department of Housing and Urban Development last month seeking answers about the income rules. Graham told 7 On Your Side he would work to change the law so that people making six figure salaries can be removed from public housing.