Dear PoPville – Brazenly Scamming the System


Dear PoPville,

I saw this taped on to a bus shelter on Georgia Ave and Columbia Road yesterday morning. Still there today.

Seems like a welfare scam or sorts, I wonder if others have seen similar signs elsewhere?

43 Comment

    • this doesn’t even make sense. if it’s in the “projects” (section 8, public housing) then the rent is 30% of the household income. So if your “cousin” moved in, you’d still have to report it to DCHA or the property manager and submit proof of your “cousin’s” income so the rent would go up. It wouldn’t help you catch up on back rent. Plus, you can’t just add adults to your lease, even if they’re related to you–generally you have to get married, have/get custody of a kid, need a live-in caretaker, something like that. So “cousin” isn’t more useful than “random lady I advertised on the street for.”

      If this is someone trying to get back rent I feel sorry for them because the plan probably won’t work and might just get them evicted faster.

      • saf

        Oh, but if it’s someone’s “cousin” who is just “staying a little while,” most people will look the other way.

  • Eh, this doesn’t rise to the level of “scam” in my eyes. It sounds like they are renting out a room in their place. If they were living elsewhere and subletting the entire apartment at a profit, that would be a “scam”.

    I’d rather see someone get caught up on their rent and, at the same time, giving a single mother an affordable place to live in the most expensive housing market in the country. Reading this sign makes me feel a bit more fortunate that I have a good job & a nice apartment.

    Let’s all have a little a more compassion for people facing tough circumstances.

    • The scam part is when he says you have to be his “cousin” while living there. I see nothing wrong with chopping up your walk in closet and renting it out in 3 units for $200 a month. That’s a steal!

    • Yes as long as its not some weirdo trying to find victims….meh

    • It’s a scam because it’s probably rent controlled already. Not that we can’t feel bad for the people involved but it’s dishonest and those people are trying to game the system though it seems like it is out of desperation.

      • saf

        “Probably rent controlled?”

        OK, did nobody notice that it says it is in the projects? Those apartments are tightly regulated. This is absolutely against the lease. This needs to be reported to DCHA.

        • x2. This is absolutely not allowed and an abuse of the public housing system. How is that not general knowledge for everyone in DC.

          • Criticizing lawlessness is something only naive gentrifiers do. You should have known rules were for breaking when you moved here and started paying taxes to the city government.

          • Ha. Now that is an excellent point. “Carry on, citizen.”

          • saf

            I am hardly what you call a naive gentrifier. I have lived in this city for a long time, most of it in Petworth. I have worked with community groups all across the city. I know a lot about the District.

            So, call me a gentrifier if you must, but NEVER naive!

            Oh, also, not a hipster, just because I usually get called a hipster right after I get called a gentrifier. Thank you.

            (and since I do not have the “silly” font attribute, please apply it for yourself. Thank you!)

          • Pretty certain that was irony, saf.

          • saf

            I know. I was attempting to reply in-kind. Sadly, text takes away much.

        • +1 to what saf said.

    • Agreed, zero_sum. I mean, I consider myself a relatively principled person about a lot of things, so I understand the sentiment behind feeling that this is a “scam.” But at the same time…I really doubt that a public housing resident is trying to use a bus-shelter flyer to solicit stranger-boarders so that they can rake in a huge profit and roll around in their bathtub full of cash while sipping champagne. It sounds like someone has fallen on hard times and is struggling to avoid eviction. This might not be the “right” way to handle the situation, but even from a purely economic perspective, this way the housing authority might at least get their rent money, and I even wonder if it would be a net cost savings to taxpayers versus the city having to go through an eviction proceeding and/or deal with this tenant post-eviction on the homeless services side of things.

      I actually worry equally about the single mother who might respond to such a sign–that’s putting yourself in a vulnerable position, and my heart goes out to someone who would be in circumstances that desperate. (And agreed re the compassion. Things like job loss or a medical crisis can strike at any time, and people who haven’t witnessed or experienced those things might be surprised how fast they can drain your resources–even for the most educated, prudent, and financially savvy among us.)

      • saf

        You know, I’ve been poor. I know how privileged I am now, and that it is possible to lose it.

        I do feel bad for someone who sees this as their only option. But when you take public money, you agree to live with the strings that come attached to that money. And those strings include a strict lease.

        Funny how when the question is crime, everyone here instantly jumps on the “must be those project folks” bandwagon, but when it’s need, it suddenly becomes “have some compassion.”

        Look, this is HOW bad conditions develop in subsidized housing. Those leases are meant to keep people safe. Yeah, it doesn’t always work. But saying, “Oh, let them take in boarders” contributes to overcrowding, and prevents proper screening of residents.

        • saf, I definitely hear what you’re saying and appreciate that you seem to have a rational approach rather than ranting and blaming. (And for the record, I’m not one of the commenters that knee-jerk scapegoats public housing every time a crime report is posted.) I don’t feel great about individuals skirting the rules like that, and it’s a tough situation because I recognize that in a large bureacuracy like public housing you need some structure and some rules, and the system is too big to make case-by-case judgment calls like “Tenant X can take in a boarder to help with rent because that boarder is deemed upstanding, but Tenant Y can’t.” At the same time, I dunno…seeing a sign like that just made me feel empathetic for the person who posted as well as the person whose situation is so equally dire that responding to an ad like that is their best housing option. For me, it’s just hard in the grand scheme of other scams and wastes of money to muster up that much outrage.

          • saf

            All the tenants are supposed to be screened. Problems come when they are not. So since everyone living there has (theoretically) been screened, I don’t agreed with your “too big to do this review” theory.

            And yes, it is sad. But it is this kind of situation that causes many of the problems in public housing. Is there a better way to help the needy? Probably. Is this us, doing the best that we can right now? Probably.

            This person needs to find a way to work with the restrictions that they agreed to be bound by when they took the apartment.

            And this bothers me, because I have seen up close and personal, the bad results of poorly managed public housing. Well managed housing assistance can be a hand up. Poorly managed, it can drag down individuals and even entire neighborhoods.

          • saf: sorry, I realized I didn’t explain it well in my previous post–I agree with you on the screening issue and its importance. I meant to say (but ended up expressing it in a backwards way) that I can acknowledge that a bureaucracy like the housing system is too big and by nature has to be too systematic to make case-by-case judgment calls on people bending the rules. As in saying “ok, we’ll make an exception and let this flyer-poster move a roommate in to help with the rent without upping the rent amount because they’re an decent person.” I get why the rules exist and that there can be safety and overall quality-of-life issues when you let the rules slide–I guess my gut disagreement was with some of the attitudes in this thread that whoever posted this flyer must be a lowlife scammer who’s greedily out to amass piles of money. (Even if this person does get some takers from their flyer, I doubt they’re going to be living a life of luxury off of it.)

  • PS – where’s the “GDoN” tag, Prince?!?!?!


  • My guess is that there is something in the lease against subleasing either all or part of the apartment. This person is behind of rent and trying to make some money renting out the space while pretending the person is family staying for free.

  • The taxpayers already subsidize the lion’s share of this person’s rent; he or she is just looking for someone to foot the remainder of the bill. It’s illegal and shady.

  • why obscure the phone #? This is posted in a public place. If you show the phone number it will help this person find a tenant!

  • Generally, if the roommate qualifies for section 8 and has a voucher, it’s allowable. But it doesn’t sound like they want to go the legal route…

  • Jesus Christ, this person already lives in the projects and is desperate enough to post at a public bus stop for strangers to live in their home because they can’t make up the extra $200 a month. Partially funded by public money or not, it blows my mind that as soon as the projects are mentioned, benefit of the doubt goes out the window.

    • +1

      If I had to conjecture, this person is probably a senior on a fixed income who happens to have an extra room in their apartment now that their children have moved out. They need to rent out the room to make ends meet, in an already bad situation. I don’t begrudge anyone on this.

      • Yeah, and the finger-waving about “taxpayers already subsidize the lion’s share” is such a WASPY bunch of crock. EVERYONE is subsidized in one form or another by the taxpayer. Every. Single. American. That’s you!

        • I am amused at your comment because I am not white, not Anglo-Saxon, not a protestant, and not an American. I’m not saying I feel bad about this person’s predicament. I did say that there are mechanisms in place to deal with these adversities in a lawful manner, and this person is probably not pursuing those avenues. This isn’t Nam, there are rules.

        • It’s mathematically impossible for “everyone” to be subsidized by the taxpayer.

          We all benefit from government, yes. But we are not all subsidized by taxes on a net basis.

      • Nice of you to give the benefit of the doubt, but that’s not how public housing works. Rent is tied to household income — a person pays a certain percentage for rent (about 1/3). If this were truly a senior citizen whose household size and income suddenly decreased, they’d be entitled to a corresponding rent reduction.

        No, this is clearly someone looking to scam DCHA (and the taxpayers) by claiming a false family member on their lease and then not reporting the extra $200 that the illegal tenant gives in rent.

        And let’s be honest here. Given the rent reduction for reduced income, and given the fact that DCHA has waived the national rule that all families must pay at least $50/month, even if they report $0 income, there’s very little reason to be behind in rent for public housing. Claim to have no income? In DC you pay no rent.

        • Obviously, no one knows this exact person’s financial circumstance, so we’re all just speculating here. But let me throw out there that the wrinkle with rent-tied-to-income is that it doesn’t take into account a person’s full monthly expenses–just their income. So 1/3 of income might be perfectly manageable for you or I (although actually for me, if it’s 1/3 of my gross monthly income, I could not afford to pay that much in rent, given what my take-home pay is after taxes and what my other financial obligations are). For another person, 1/3 of income toward rent might be a high burden if they have other substantial monthy expenses: for example, paying off old debts, unreimbursed medical expenses (even if you qualify for Medicaid, that doesn’t always cover everything, nor does Medicare), informal support to an elderly or young relative who’s even worse off, and so on. There are any number of reasons why someone might pay only 1/3 of income in rent and still fall short every month.

          • +1 that is exactly my point. We don’t know either way–hypothetically speaking, this person COULD be running some kind of scam. However, we have no idea, and when talking about ANY kind of population that benefits from public aid (which, as Fonzy said, is ALL of us, but that’s for another post) the assumption is ALWAYS laziness, ALWAYS deceit, whereas people in other circumstances are given the benefit of the doubt far more frequently.

          • It’s not gross income. There are deductions for things like educational and medical expenses.

            Again, there’s almost no legitimate reason for someone to be behind in rent for public housing. I’ve been in that and related fields for a long time and have only seen a handful of simple hard luck cases. The rest have all been someone getting caught understating income or overstating expenses and then getting hit with a retroactive rent increase.

          • “the assumption is ALWAYS laziness, ALWAYS deceit”

            No “assumption” of deceit here, Sarah. The flyer explicitly requires deceit — “being my cousin and being discreet.”

            Put the indignation away for a legitimate occasion.

    • saf

      I feel bad for the person. But (you knew that was coming, right?) part of the deal when you live on public funds is abiding by the regulations.

      And those regulations exist for reasons.

      Yeah, some of them are silly, but in general, housing assistance is regulated to make certain that public funds are being spent to help those who need it.

      I am fine with paying to help out people who need it. I am not fine with paying to help out those who don’t need it. For example – the little old ladies in the subsidized housing up the street are cool. But their grandsons who “stay” with them and spend all their time selling drugs and breaking into cars are not cool. Or, I would be ok with the house full of young women and their babies across the street from me, were it not for their thuggy, violent boyfriends who “stop” with them, selling drugs, screaming, beating the women and the babies.

      Those people are not supposed to be living in the subsidized housing. So they lie to the Housing Authority, and take advantage of the program meant to help those in need.

      • Sounds like you are living in my old neighborhood. We had a bunch of sweet little old ladies who had thuggy grandsons who “stayed” with them and one house full of young women and their kids who had drug dealing boyfriends. I guess that is a pretty common thread throughout the city.

    • “Benefit of the doubt goes out the window” because the fraud requirement.

      Being in a project does not make the scam any more suspect. But being a fraud against the city, rather than a private landlord, does make the matter a legitimate public concern.

  • Hard for me to understand those who defend this is as even possibly legitimate — and attack others for prejudging. How to explain the requirement that the prospective roommate pretend to be someone else and “be discreet”? Hardly a stretch to assume this is prohibited.

    The brazenness is truly astonishing.

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