Johnson City Housing Authority calls over income legislation “waste of time”

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – Johnson City Housing Authority Executive Director Richard McClain says lawmakers’ efforts to evict over income families from public housing are “a waste of time.”

Our Community Watchdog investigation prompted Congressman Phil Roe, (R) – TN, to file legislation earlier this month. It would require housing authorities to evict certain over income public housing residents after a year. Another bill already passed the House with Rep. Roe’s support. It would require housing authorities to either charge over income families more after two years or evict them.

“It won’t matter (if it’s passed),” McClain said. “It’s a waste of time.”

McClain doesn’t think any over income legislation will pass and even if it does, he doesn’t think the courts will authorize the evictions of tenants who actually pay their rents and are generally law-abiding citizens.

“The local courts have the jurisdiction of whether people are evicted or not, so it doesn’t matter what is passed. The local courts don’t support many of the laws that are there now,” he said. “If all these people are saying, ‘Yes, I’m paying my rent on time,’ the judge is going to try to work out another solution.”

For roughly every two over-income families living in public housing nationwide, the federal government reports there were another 98 who need government-subsidized apartments as of 2014.

“I would say it’s one of the most efficient programs we have,” McClain said.

Since we first started asking questions in 2013, JCHA reports the over income issue in Johnson City is no longer an issue. According to McClain, there are no longer any egregious over income cases at JCHA. However, he says there are still a handful of families who make in the $50,000s and $60,000s.

McClain says those families belong in public housing. He says they pay their rent on time and are families made up of either veterans with disabilities, elderly residents or families with four working adults who are trying to send their children to college. At best, he says they are short-term over income households.

“It makes no sense to evict those people,” McClain said.

A federal audit released last year identified more than 25,000 over income families living in public housing across the United States, while 500,000 people in need were stuck on waiting lists.

Congressman Roe recently filed legislation hoping to force some of the highest earners out after a year.

“It seems wrong for people who are 125% above the income level to stay in that home while someone who is very needy doesn’t have a home,” Rep. Roe told us earlier this month. “I think that’s wrong and hopefully we can get bi-partisan support. I’m sure we will.”

If Roe’s bill passes and housing authorities have widespread issues, his office has pledged to work with them to improve the process.

Elizabethton Housing and Development Agency Executive Director Kelly Geagley says although a family of four previously made $73,000 at his agency, that has since changed after one resident lost a job.

“The Median income for Carter County is $52,400 at 125% over being $65,500,” Geagley said. “As of (earlier this month), our income levels do not include anyone in this category.”

According to Geagley, EHDA’s board will likely adjust its policy to make sure egregious over income families do not live in Elizabethton public housing units for long periods of time in the future. In addition, he says he supports the idea behind Congressman Roe’s legislation.

“I support the concept of Congressman Roe’s legislation and hope the time frame for taking action on over income residents is reasonable,” Geagley said.

Copyright WJHL 2016. All rights reserved.

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