Sex Offenders Illegally Get Public Housing

generic HUD Department of Housing and Urban Development silhouette shadow sexual abuse CBS/ AP

A few thousand lifetime registered sex offenders illegally live in federally subsidized housing, an internal investigation found.

Investigators projected that the Housing and Urban Development Department subsidizes roughly 2,100 to 3,000 households that include a serious sex offender. The HUD inspector general's office conducted the review.

Congress banned subsidized housing for the most serious sex offenders after a 1997 case when a convicted sex offender was charged with assaulting and molesting a 9-year-old neighbor girl who lived in the same public housing building. The legislation said that housing authorities must not admit any household that includes a person subject to the lifetime registration requirement, typically reserved for the most serious offenders.

Investigators said HUD failed to meet the law's objective, in part, because of a lack of monitoring. For example, HUD did not require housing authorities to ask applicants whether any of the prospective residents was subject to a lifetime registration requirement. HUD also did not require housing authorities to check a national sex offender registry when it recertifies eligibility of its residents.

In conducting the review, investigators identified 4,784 households in which one or more members' Social Security numbers matched an offender in the FBI's national sex offender registry. They then selected a sample of 67 of those households and found that 36 included a lifetime registered sex offender.

The 36 had been convicted for a variety of offenses, including rape, sexual assault and lewd or lascivious acts. Some of their offenses were against children. For example, one person was still living in subsidized housing despite a 2002 conviction of criminal attempt to commit rape of a 5-year-old child. Another got subsidized housing in 2008 despite a conviction five years earlier for first-degree sexual abuse of a 4-year-old.

In responding to the report, HUD officials said the rate for improper admissions was extremely small when compared to more than 4 million admissions into subsidized housing. HUD officials put the error rate at between .03 percent and .04 percent. Nevertheless, it would be issuing guidance to public housing authorities to remind them of their statutory and regulatory obligations not to admit lifetime registered sex offenders.

The inspector general said more than $12 million could be saved annually by not subsidizing housing for those households with a lifetime registered sex offender.

The inspector general also said legislation may be needed to ensure that HUD can terminate tenant agreements for those improperly allowed into subsidized housing. But HUD officials disagreed and said public housing authorities already have sufficient authority to remove lifetime registered sex offenders.
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