Today’s Read: Lawsuit: Landlords Are Illegally Locking Out Thousands of Homeless New Yorkers

Soon after Mayor de Blasio took office, he launched a series of City-funded rent subsidies to enable homeless New Yorkers to move out of shelters and into permanent housing. The subsidy programs, now largely consolidated under the name CityFHEPS, have helped many people either avoid or exit homelessness. However, many others struggle to find apartments even when they have rent subsidies. One barrier that makes their housing search more difficult is source-of-income discrimination. A 2008 New York City law prohibits landlords or real estate brokers from refusing to rent apartments to current or prospective tenants solely because they would pay rent with a lawful source of income such as rent vouchers, and this year’s State budget further expanded the law.

Despite these legal protections, many New Yorkers continue to encounter illegal source-of-income discrimination – through both overt and harder-to-detect means. This shameful and unlawful discrimination prevents many individuals and families from moving out of shelters into stable, permanent housing.

Mirela Iverac wrote about the persistent issue of source-of-income discrimination for Gothamist/WNYC:

Across the city, housing experts say landlords regularly reject applications from New Yorkers who receive housing subsidies despite a decade-old City Council law aimed to prevent the practice. And it is having an effect on homelessness. According to city statistics, more than 11,000 households are currently living in city shelters, even though they have vouchers that would cover their rent.

“We are contacted on a daily basis by people who’ve been denied over and over again,” said Katherine Carroll, an assistant commissioner at the city’s Commission on Human Rights, which enforces the 2008 law against source of income discrimination. “They’re having to remain in shelters for months, if not years.”

In New York, landlords often require applicants to annually earn 40 times the monthly rent (or a similar multiple) as a way of ensuring their tenants are able to afford an apartment. But if applied to voucher holders, who are low-income, that policy excludes almost all of them. On average, households in city shelters that work earn less than $24,000 in a year. According to the 40 times rule, that’s only enough to cover a $600/month apartment, which is virtually impossible to find in the five boroughs.

Advocates say this is a new, more sophisticated way of violating the source of income law. In earlier years, violations were more blatant, such as landlords posting ads on Craigslist saying they don’t accept any programs.

“What we’re seeing are neutral-sounding policies that in their design and the way they’re applied actually exclude people almost as much as the rules that say don’t even bother to apply if you have a program,” said Diane Houk, a tenant attorney.

If you believe that you have experienced this type of housing discrimination, please report it through one of these resources:

  • Contact the NYC Human Resources Administration’s Source of Income Unit at 929-221-6576 or
  • File a complaint with the NYC Commission on Human Rights through this online form or by calling 311 or 212-306-7450.
  • Call the Fair Housing Justice Center at 212–400-8201 or toll-free at 1-866-350-FHJC.