Have you ever been a home-renter?  If you’re experienced in the renting department, then you’ve likely had the joy of dealing with a landlord, making sure rent is paid on time and even maintaining the up-keep of a home that isn’t even yours.  Renting can be a pain.  On top of those typical renter worries, could you imagine handling a public housing fraud scam?  According to a Brevard Times article, one Florida resident found renting to be more then he could handle.

The Housing Choice Voucher program, otherwise known as Section 8, is a social service program that disburses federally funded subsidies through rental assistance.  In Cocoa, Florida, the program is run by the Housing Authority of the City of Cocoa, with funding coming from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Florida, home to growing fraud concerns, is cracking down on fraudulent scams against programs, such as Section 8. (Good – we shouldn’t be paying for people to live essentially rent-free if they don’t deserve the assistance!) Local police revealed the results of an audit of one Cocoa resident who allegedly had received over $15,000 in public assistance benefits from 2011-2013.  

According to the investigation, the renter lied about questions related to drug activities and other arrests during his initial and re-certification applications for the benefits program – and the police were called and he was arrested.  The court has charged him with three counts of public assistance fraud, one count of making false statements to obtain public aid and theft.   

It is critical to note that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.  Even so, the case is instructive.  Here, the defendant allegedly stole Section 8 funds by failing to disclose information about prior drug-related activity.  Whether the facts in this case are true or not, failing to disclose key facts requested by the Section 8 application may impact an individual’s eligibility for the program and be fraud.

In this case, the defendant is facing charges and a real rental nightmare.  His fate is up to the court.  But, the larger question is:  how often do people scam the system by lying on eligibility applications?  And – more importantly – how can public housing agencies catch these fraudsters?

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