Violations and Vouchers: An Interview with a Section 8 Police Officer
An elderly lady answered the door. I caught a glimpse of a couple of kids and sleeping bags on the floor before they hurried to shut the door. I heard fast footsteps as two other bedroom doors slammed shut. In the kitchen, another lady was cooking. Just how many people were living in my 1000 square foot Section 8 rental home with only three people on the lease?
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I didn’t know just how bad extra tenants could be until I talked to a Section 8 police officer. Below is an interview with Jenny Wright, a Section 8 Fraud Investigation Supervisor.
Section 8: Fraud Investigations, Violations, and a Few Bits of Advice
How did you become a fraud investigation supervisor?
I was with the police department as a patrol officer. In 2003, our police department here in Chattanooga, Tennessee decided to investigate waste and abuse of assisted units – Section 8 and public housing. I applied for the position and have been working with the housing authority since then. Our Section 8 has its own police department through the housing authority. Not all housing authorities have their own police force.
What types of fraud do you investigate?
Section 8 rents are based on income. If people on assisted rent are working and don’t report their income, they are committing fraud.
What other types of fraud do you see?
Section 8 demands that all people living at a unit need to be disclosed to Section 8. It is fraud if tenants will allow others to live with them and not report this to Section 8.
What are some reasons for the requirement?
To prevent criminals from living in Section 8 homes and to make sure Section 8 tenants aren’t subleasing out part of their home. All tenants receiving Section 8 vouchers must pass a Section 8 background check. Often unreported roommates have criminal backgrounds they want to hide. Also, if a tenant is getting government assistance on rent; they aren’t allowed to get extra rent or utility help from a roommate.
How often do you investigate these types of fraud?
A couple of times a day.
Any other types of fraud?
Sometimes tenants take credit for people who don’t live with them. For example, last week we found a mother with three kids on a Section 8 voucher who had her kids living with the father at a different residence. The tenant was getting credit and a bigger space for people who didn’t even live there.
Who reports fraud to your office?
Landlords, neighbors, angry ex-boyfriends, angry ex-girlfriends and human services.
If you want to report someone, what would you do?
Call your local public safety office or housing authority. You can also go to the housing authority and fill out a form.
What else can you report?
Suspicion of drug use, drug dealing, prostitution and really, any crime.
What about abuse of property?
Landlords need to notify the housing authority if they have a Section 8 rental that has been damaged by the tenant. Section 8 needs to know if a tenant isn’t upholding their end of the lease. The most important thing a landlord can do is to enforce a lease. Any violation to a lease has the potential to get a tenant’s voucher terminated. If a landlord takes a tenant to court and sues for damages, let Section 8 know. Document damages with pictures and send the pictures and all documentation to Section 8.
What advice do you give landlords with Section 8 tenants?
1. If you see violations, let the housing authority know. Report issues and enforce leases. Mail tenants notices and cc a copy to Section 8.
2. We run a background check but sometimes let people with a history on the program. Do your own background and credit checks.
3. If you have tenants with extra people in the property, notify Section 8.
4. Go to the Section 8 landlord orientation meetings.
What changes do you predict will happen with Section 8 in the future?
Some say public housing is going away and only vouchers will be given. Others say public housing and vouchers will always remain a dual program.
Any final words?
It’s my opinion that people should take responsibility and be able to get off the program except for the elderly and those who have mental and physical disabilities. It’s hard for me to believe that the 25 year old woman can’t go get a job even if she has kids. We are seeing the program being abused. I’d like to see the people who are abusing Section 8 find somewhere else to go.
Photo: David Laprad – Hamilton County Herald