WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – A public records request recently submitted to the Wilmington Housing Authority uncovered that one household living in Jervay Place had an annual income of $83,000.
That income was by far the highest of all the WHA households. The average household income for their residents is $9,000 - and some families make far less.
Still, there are dozens of households with incomes of at least $30,000 a year, putting them in much better financial shape than many people still on the waiting list for public housing.
Learning that a public housing household had an income of over $80,000 came as a surprise, even to the director of the Wilmington Housing Authority.
"I think that's excessive for a public housing program," said Mike Krause. "We want to see people do well and transition out of public housing, but by the same token we can't have people doing so well that others who really are in desperate need of housing, aren't being served."
There are just over 1,000 families living in public housing units in Wilmington and another 2,000 getting rental assistance through Section 8. But the need is far greater - so much so that the lengthy waiting list for public housing here has been closed for two years.
Many of those in need who haven't found a spot in public housing end up at the Good Shepherd Shelter.
"I've never really had a problem finding something [before], but now, it's awful," Good Shepherd resident and kitchen volunteer Larry Rivers said.
Rivers say he lost three different jobs in the Wilmington area over the years when his employers went out of business. Because he served four years in the Marine Corps, and because he has a chronic health condition, Rivers says he was given priority and has been approved for Section 8 assistance.
But Rivers hasn't moved in anywhere yet, because he's still trying to come up with the money he needs for a security deposit and utility fees.
"It's crazy. The rent is just so high," Rivers explained. "If you are like me and all these people living in the shelter… what little bit you make, it doesn't go anywhere."
Rivers says it's frustrating to hear about high income households taking up limited public housing spots - but he knows that many of the people in public housing are just as financially strapped as he is.
WHA's Mike Krause says it's a balancing act.
"I think oftentimes for our families, the options are really limited, and that's often why we see families who are living there for years and years, and generations, because there really are no other affordable options here in Wilmington," explained Krause.
Federal law does not allow the WHA to limit the amount of time a family can stay in public housing. It does allow housing authorities to set income caps, but Krause says high incomes in public housing are rare.
He says the WHA will consider it, but fears setting an income cap might actually deter families from actively seeking work.
Homeless shelter and public housing officials agree that one of the biggest problems they face is resistance to adding new affordable housing developments in Wilmington.
For example, an effort to build a subsidized housing complex for the elderly in Pine Valley last year was defeated when city council got a huge amount of outcry from surrounding residents.
Copyright 2013 WECT. All rights reserved.
322 Shipyard Boulevard