Live 5 News Investigates: People staying in public housing despite higher incomes

Photo Source: Live 5
Photo Source: Live 5

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Right now, more than a thousand families are on waiting lists for public housing in Charleston and North Charleston. Some will wait up to two years for a spot to open up.

Most will not live there for life, but a few have decided to stay. And their incomes may surprise you. Under federal guidelines, it is perfectly legal.

For those interested in housing in the City of Charleston, the time to sign up is Thursday mornings between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. at the Housing Authority office on upper Meeting Street.

Alysa Fields is hoping to move into one of the 1300 public housing units in Charleston with her young son so she will be closer to work.

"I was kind of worried about them saying, 'Okay, you have a job, why should we help you?' But they say they help you faster if you do have a job," she said.

Fields filled out the paperwork, and was told she would have a wait.

"They said six months to 12, and I was expecting a two year wait!" she said.

The wait could be two years if she'd applied in North Charleston, where 92 families are waiting for housing managed by that city's housing authority. Charleston County's Housing Authority has 458 families waiting six months to a year.

Fields is one of more than 600 families on the City of Charleston's waiting list.

Housing Authority Director Don Cameron says there is a huge need.

"We provide assistance to about a third of the eligible population," Cameron said.

At the Meeting Street office, applicants are told there will be a background check and their incomes will be verified.

In Charleston, the average family in public housing brings home around $10,500 a year. In North Charleston, the average wages are slightly over $13,000. But there are several families living in public housing who make many times that. In North Charleston, one family reports an income of almost $49,000. In Charleston, one family brings home $57,000.

In the 1960s when families began earning more, Cameron said they were given six months to move out. But those federal guidelines have changed. Now, as long as the family pays the required 30% of their adjusted income, they can stay.

So why do they stay in public housing when they can afford to move out?

"The biggest single thing is the lack of affordable housing downtown, if they decide to move or are forced to move they would probably have to move

out of the area, which is unfortunate," Cameron says.

Adjusted income means the federal government deducts for expenses associated with children, elderly, medical issues or disability.

The federal government helps fund low income families and Cameron points out families who've begun earning more pay more.

"They're not receiving any subsidy in terms of dollars and in fact are helping to reduce the cost the federal government is having to pay for other people who do need the subsidy," he said.

Because the family income is considered, the numbers not only include the wage earner's salary, but also income such as survivor benefits or income from children with disabilities.

As a single working mom, Fields is looking forward to move to public housing, but she doesn't plan to be there long term.

"I only want to stay here a year or two and move on, I don't want to be here forever," Fields said.

There are several different programs providing housing assistance also available in Berkeley and Dorchester counties.

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