BROWN COUNTY - Nearly one out of every 10 people receiving housing assistance from Brown County actually lives outside of the county.
In April of 2013, more than $1 million of federal money was spent in Brown County for housing assistance. But more than $200,000 of that money was actually spent on people who don't live here.
According to figures released to FOX 11 On Special Assignment, the Brown County Housing Authority made a total of 2,997 housing assistance payments in April. The housing authority made 268 housing assistance payments for people living outside of Brown County. The payments were made for people living in places like Minneapolis, Seattle, Virginia, Chicago, even Puerto Rico.
As a comparison, there are about 20 households in Brown County receiving federal housing assistance from another city.
- Click here for a list of places where people are receiving housing assistance through the Brown County Housing Authority
Rosemarie Doucette is receiving the taxpayer-funded housing benefits from the Brown County Housing Authority. But she doesn't live in Brown County. She lives in Milwaukee County.
"They said I could even go to Puerto Rico. Not that I wanted to go but I was surprised that I could go to Alaska or wherever I wanted to go," Doucette said.
Doucette lived in Green Bay for 20 years. She started receiving housing assistance in 2011 after she had a stroke. In August of 2012, she moved to the Milwaukee area to be closer to her daughter.
What Doucette didn't realize is that even though she left Brown County, the Brown County Housing Authority is still paying for her housing assistance.
When asked if it made sense for the Brown County Housing Authority to continue paying for her assistance in Milwaukee County she replied, "Are they paying for it now?"
"I didn't know they were paying it," she said. "I thought it transferred to Milwaukee and that was that."
Since the housing program is run by the federal government, people on it can move. But when they do, the housing authority where they first received assistance has to keep paying the assistance until the housing authority in the new city absorbs them into its own program. That can take years. As a results, tens of thousands of dollars set aside for Brown County residents actually ends up being spent on people who moved away.
After hearing how the funding works, Doucette says she understands why some people are concerned about it.
"They don't want to be paying for all these people out of town," she said.
Patrick Leifker oversees the housing program for Integrated Community Solutions. He says the Brown County Housing Authority could be paying for people who move away "indefinitely."
For example, Brown County is still making housing payments for one person who moved away in 2010.
"We're being taken advantage of," said county supervisor Andy Nicholson who sits on the Brown County Housing Authority.
"It basically drains our services to help the people in Brown County that stay in Brown County," Nicholson said.
It's not just that the Brown County Housing Authority has to continue paying the housing assistance for people who move away; the housing authority also ends up paying more for those people because of the higher cost of living in other cities.
The average housing assistance payment for a unit in Brown County is $346 a month. The average payment Brown County makes for a unit outside the area is $778.
"It's unjust to the initial housing authority, because that means there are fewer families who can use a voucher here," said Robyn Hallett, Brown County housing administrator.
In order to receive the federal housing assistance from the Brown County Housing Authority, people must prove they are Brown County residents. To do that, they must show a state-issued ID with a Brown County address and two pieces of documentation, like utility bills.
But once a person who receives assistance is on the program, they can take it anywhere.
When asked if there are people who are moving to Brown County specifically to establish residency so they can get on the waiting list to get housing in 6-12 months with the intent of leaving right away, Leifker replied, "It's possible. From our indication, it looks like there have been opportunities for that."
Leifker says the majority of the people on housing assistance that leave Brown County, leave right away.
"As soon as they come on the program and we verify Brown County residency, that's when they request their assistance be ported to another housing authority," he said.
When asked if there's anything that can be done to stop people from leaving as soon as they receive the assistance, Leifker replied, "As of right now, as long as they've proven residency, unfortunately, no."
"A lot of people would automatically think an easy solution to that is to say they have to live here for a year or two years before they can be considered a resident. But (Housing and Urban Development) specifically says you can not place a time limit on that," Hallett said.
Even people who benefit from the program, like Rosemarie Doucette, think changes are needed.
"I think they should have some restrictions or the people should have a good reason for moving," she said.
The Brown County Housing Authority contacted U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble's office to try to make changes to the program.
When asked how likely it is that the program will be fixed, Ribble (R-8th District)said, "Well, it's more likely now because it's been brought more to my attention."
Ribble says he will be working on the issue with his colleague from Wisconsin, U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-7th District). Duffy sits on the Financial Services Committee, which oversees the housing program. Ribble says he is going to see if they can come up with legislation to fix the problems in the housing program. FOX 11 On Special Assignment will keep following the issue and let you know if any progress is made.
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