I-Team: Federal Housing Benefits Go to Hundreds of Dead Tenants

Some of the deceased got housing subsidies for up to 5 years before federal and local regulators noticed they were no longer living

What to Know

  • According to records obtained by the I-Team, HUD has paid rental benefits for more than 700 dead tenants — dozens of them in the NYC region
  • Some of the deceased got housing subsidies for up to 5 years before federal and local regulators noticed they were no longer living
  • In an audit, investigators blamed the problem on HUD’s failure to give local housing agencies access to the federal Do Not Pay system

According to records obtained by the I-Team, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has paid rental benefits for more than 700 dead tenants — dozens of them in the New York City region. Some of the deceased individuals got housing subsidies for up to five years before federal and local regulators noticed they were no longer living.

Ramon Delarosa, a Bronx tenant who died of diabetes, was listed as one of the dead beneficiaries. Federal records show he passed away on November 11, 2016, but rental benefits, known as Section 8, were paid in his name through the end of 2018.

It’s not clear who accepted the rent checks. The checks themselves were signed by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), but the funds ultimately came from HUD.

“It’s a classic case study in bureaucratic incompetence,” said Council Member Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx). “We as a city do not have the luxury of spending the precious affordable housing resources we have on the deceased.”

Investigators at the HUD Office of Inspector General (OIG) first pointed out the problem of rental benefits going to dead tenants in an audit published earlier this summer. The report found botched payments to private landlords under HUD’s Section 8 program as well as botched subsidies going directly to local housing agencies like NYCHA.

In the OIG audit, investigators blamed the problem on HUD’s failure to give local housing agencies access to the federal Do Not Pay system, a database that uses multiple streams of information to identify people who are ineligible to receive federal benefits because they are dead or otherwise banned from federal programs.

Without access to the Do Not Pay database, the Inspector General said public housing officials across the country had no idea they were cutting $6.1 million in rental checks for dead people. The study only considered people who received benefits in 2017, so it’s unclear if there are other dead beneficiaries in prior years.

The records obtained by the I-Team show the names and dates of death for all 729 dead tenants who received housing benefits in 2017. The majority of them passed away in 2017, meaning the botched rental checks went out for less than a year. But 48 of the deceased tenants passed away in 2015 or earlier – meaning those errant subsidies were paid out for years before anyone noticed.

Lynne Patton, HUD’s Regional Administrator in New York, said it’s troubling that subsidies would be mis-classified under the names of dead people. But she emphasized the vast majority of rent subsidies are processed appropriately and the Inspector General report could be misleading because many of the rental benefits assigned to dead tenants’ names could have actually paid to house their surviving relatives.

“If we are paying people who should not be receiving subsidies, that’s wrong,” Patton said. “But if somebody passed away in a household that also has other low income people in it, the household should continue to receive the subsidy.”

Patton said HUD is currently working to provide local housing agencies access to the Do Not Pay database. She cautioned her office would severely penalize any private landlord caught improperly pocketing rental subsidies for a dead tenant.

“In cases of Section 8, it’s absolutely possible,” she said. “And that would infuriate me beyond measure.”

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