PHA Didn't Consider Mitigating Circumstances
Facts: On March 4, 2013, a local PHA sent a notice of termination of Housing Choice Voucher benefits to a resident. The letter indicated that her benefits were being terminated because she had failed to report in writing within 30 days of an increase in household income or new income for any family member. The notice stated that she hadn’t reported her daughter’s employment and income, which began in March 2012.
On May 28, 2013, the PHA wrote to the resident formally recognizing her request for an informal hearing. In the letter, the PHA offered to resolve the matter with her and avoid an informal hearing, if she could pay back the amount of money that the PHA had allegedly overpaid her, $1,859. The resident responded in writing that she couldn’t make those payments due to her income.
On Aug. 15, 2013, the resident appeared before the hearing officer for her informal hearing. Based on the documents and evidence presented at the informal hearing, the hearing officer upheld the decision of the housing authority to terminate her benefits “due to her failure to notify the Housing Authority within 30 days of changes in her family composition and family income.”
In his decision, the hearing officer noted that the evidence showed that her daughter was no longer living with her at the time her daughter began working. The fact that the daughter had moved out wasn’t reported to the PHA until nine months later when the resident submitted her recertification application.
The resident asked a circuit court to review the housing officer’s decision. The circuit court judge determined that the hearing officer’s decision was wrong and found that the hearing officer’s decision failed to consider mitigating circumstances listed in the PHA’s administrative plan. The PHA appealed.
Ruling: An Illinois appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision.
Reasoning: The PHA’s administrative plan states that in deciding to terminate assistance, the PHA would consider the extent of participation or culpability of individual family members, including whether the culpable family member is a minor or a person with disabilities or a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking.
The court noted that there were minor children in the household at the time benefits were terminated and there was absolutely nothing in the record indicating that this factor was considered by the hearing officer despite the fact that it appears within the documents that were submitted as evidence before the hearing officer.
In addition, the hearing officer did not make a finding of fact that the resident intended to commit a fraud when she failed to report certain information to the PHA. The court noted the record showed that the resident failed to report within 30 days when her two children moved out of the household, but that she ultimately did report this information on her own. The record further showed that she failed to report her daughter’s income, but that her daughter had already moved out of the household at the time she began receiving an income.
If the PHA had terminated her benefits solely based upon her failure to report in a timely manner when her son and daughter had moved out, the court stated it was possible that no overpayment, or a lesser overpayment, occurred and further possible that the hearing officer would have reversed the termination of her benefits. As such, the court sent the case back to the PHA for consideration of termination, mitigating factors, and intent based solely on the resident’s alleged failure to make a timely report of when her son and daughter moved out of the household.
- Lipscomb v. Housing Authority of the County of Cook, October 2015