I-Team investigation finds high earners living in public housing

The walk up to the third floor is precarious.

The Kimballs' New Bedford apartment is tight, filled with toys and three kids all under the age of 3. Little Kennadee was born premature and uses a feeding pump to get the nutrients she needs. Mom Rebecca is looking for a better place to raise her family. According to documents she showed NBC 10, she's been on the waiting list for a place in New Bedford Public Housing for just under four years.

Like the Kimballs, some families wait years to get into public housing. The rents are affordable, backed by the federal government. The buildings are tidy and kept up. Most families need the assistance.

But an I-Team investigation found some families earning good livings, more like great livings, making far more money than the average tenant and well beyond the area's median income. Their names are protected but the money in their paychecks is not.

In East Providence, a family in public housing earns $108,600 a year. In Woonsocket, a family of three makes $105,171 a year.

But the numbers uncovered by the I-Team in New Bedford tell a different story. A public records request found 64 families earning more than $50,000 a year. Fourteen families earn more than $75,000, three families make more than a $100,000, and one household in New Bedford Public Housing earns $200,768 a year.

"Well I'm astounded. You raise your eyebrows when you hear that," said Steve O'Rourke, the former executive director of the Providence Housing Authority.

He managed the authority for 26 years.

"It really deprives a family that needs affordable housing the opportunity to live in a place they could pay a lot less rent," O'Rourke said.

"I think they're taking up a slot that my family could use, that another family could use. I don't think they should be there," Kimball said.

The director of New Bedford's housing authority, Steven Beauregard, said in a statement: "Currently there are no income limits that would force a resident off the program. In fact, HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) encourages higher wage earners to remain in public housing as an incentive to others."

"The federal government regulations clearly state that you cannot forcibly evict a family just because they're over income," said O'Rourke.

New Bedford says the six-figure tenants came into public housing earning a lot less and bettered themselves with the help of the program. All the more reason, said Kimball, to move on and make room for those who need help today.

The family earning more than $200,000 pays a flat rent of $525 a month, less than Kimball pays for her third-floor walkup.

"How?" Kimball asked. "It angers me. It frustrates me. It's income-based housing, for families who can't afford apartments."

There are 1,200 families on the waiting list in New Bedford, and the housing authority told NBC 10 it could take up to six years to get housing.

After checking with HUD, a representative said the agency does not encourage high wage earners to stay in public housing.

"The idea is to have it available for those most in need," said Rhonda Siciliano of HUD.

The I-Team has learned that U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., asked HUD's office of inspector general to investigate similar complaints about high-income families living in public housing.