Housing subsidies are a proven tool critical in addressing homelessness. Helping people bridge the difference between their incomes and rents is more compassionate and cost-effective than leaving them to languish in shelters for years. Recognizing this, Mayor de Blasio created rent subsidies to help people avoid homelessness or leave shelters for permanent housing. However, many homeless New Yorkers encounter roadblocks as they search for an apartment, even with the guarantee of a voucher to help them pay rent.
A new investigation by NY1 reporter Courtney Gross last week highlights the frustrating, exhausting search for an apartment many face in New York City’s harsh housing market. As the story shows, many landlords outright refuse to accept vouchers – a blatant violation of New York’s ban on source-of-income discrimination. To be clear, New York City and New York State laws explicitly prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of lawful source of income, including rent subsidies. This means it is illegal for landlords to turn prospective tenants away just because they would pay rent with a voucher such as CityFHEPS, FHEPS, or Section 8. If you believe that you have experienced this type of housing discrimination, you can report it through one of the resources on this list.
Another barrier to using housing vouchers is that CityFHEPS, the City’s main subsidy program, sets the maximum rent levels unrealistically low for New York City’s expensive housing market. The City Council is considering a bill, Intro. 146, that would raise the maximum rental allowance for CityFHEPS to more closely align with actual rents and also remove time limits on voucher eligibility. Coalition for the Homeless and The Legal Aid Society testified at a September 15th City Council hearing in support of Intro. 146 and other measures to enhance source-of-income discrimination enforcement, which would enable more New Yorkers to move out of shelters.
Courtney Gross’ NY1 piece underscores the urgency of these reforms:
There are thousands of people in the city’s shelter system desperately searching for housing with the city’s rental assistance voucher known as CityFHEPS. It’s a voucher program started in October of 2018 aimed at getting people in shelter back on their feet.
A NY1 investigation found these vouchers are routinely rejected by landlords — some refusing to rent to people coming from the shelter system — discrimination that is illegal but nonetheless appears to plague the system.
The city has issued thousands of eligibility letters to homeless people to show landlords that they can use the voucher to get an apartment. But statistics exclusively obtained by NY1 show just a fraction of these families actually get housing every month.
For the first 10 months of 2019, on average every month, about 4,118 families with children in shelter had an eligibility letter to entice landlords into the voucher program. On average in that time period, only about 178 of those families found an apartment every month — a tiny slice of those potentially eligible.