Public housing tenants applaud Congress’ action on over-income issue

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – Asata Gbesee says her situation is exactly why the federal government created public housing. The wife and mother of three, who is originally from west Africa, now calls a Johnson City Housing Authority government apartment home.

“A time went bad where my son got diagnosed with autism and I couldn’t work anymore. I had to leave my job to care for him full time,” she said. “My husband’s income couldn’t make it for us anymore and our house foreclosed and we had nowhere to turn.”

She says she’s grateful the housing authority was there to help.

“I really really appreciate them,” Gbesee said. “If it wasn’t for them I would have been homeless probably today,”

Across the country, a federal audit found a half million people just like here stuck on waiting lists while thousands of others who earn a significant amount of money still live in public housing.

“I don’t think they should be living here,” she said.

Legislation passed by Congress and now awaiting the president’s signature aims to force out over-income tenants. As we reported Tuesday, the legislation requires housing authorities to either evict over-income families after two years or raise their rent.

A Missouri congressman filed the legislation after learning the results of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General audit. Congressman Phil Roe, (R), (TN-District 1), requested the federal audit after we told him the findings of our 2013 investigation. Through public records requests we found high income earners living in government apartments locally and across the State of Tennessee.

To this day, it remains a topic of conversation on Nancy Hilton’s front porch. The 74 year-old lives in public housing and raised her daughter in a government apartment.

“I think that’s wrong,” she said of her over-income neighbors across the country. “They’re taking away from people that need it.”

She and her daughter both say they’re glad Congress took action to address the problem.

“People that make a lot of money, they shouldn’t live here,” her daughter Ellen Bennett said. “They are taking homes away from the elderly, the disabled.”

HUD emailed the directors of area housing authorities yesterday, telling them possible changes are on the way. However, in Johnson City where it all began, the executive director of the housing authority declined comment.

“I have not received any info from HUD regarding policy changes resulting from the (Housing Through Modernization Act) bill passage,” Richard McClain said in an email.

In recent years, McClain has opposed changes, arguing there’s no longer a problem in Johnson City and telling us even if he wanted to evict people, the courts would fight him on it. In February he told us legislation aimed at addressing the issue was “a waste of time.”

Congress didn’t think so and Gbesee doesn’t think so either. She plans on doing her part to free up a government apartment for someone who needs it by moving out her family when they eventually get back on their feet.

“I hope and pray that after my husband graduates from his LPN school we will be able to probably buy another house and live a happy life,” she said.

Copyright WJHL 2016. All rights reserved.

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