New York landlords are exacerbating the housing crisis by illegally refusing housing vouchers

By Virginia K. Smith  | January 13, 2017 - 1:45PM

Yet another item to add to the long laundry list of factors behind the city's out-of-control affordable housing and homelessness problems: Numerous city landlords quietly refusing to accept rent vouchers from prospective tenants, which often forces the voucher holders to remain homeless or in the shelter system.

The problem isn't new, as Gothamist has previously reported, but after years of lax enforcement, the Human Rights Commission has announced a new crackdown on wayward landlords in an effort to create more housing opportunities for homeless New Yorkers. (Vouchers from programs like Section 8 or LINC help low-income tenants afford rentals by reimbursing landlords for portions of the rental cost. But of course, they only work if landlords actually agree to rent to these tenants in the first place.)

The commission says that it filed more than 120 complaints for what's known as "source-of-income discrimination" in 2016, a significant leap from the 22 it filed in 2014, per Gothamist. In one such complaint, at the 12,000-unit Parkchester complex in the Bronx, the commission alleges that multiple renters, as well as undercover investigators posing as renters, were turned away based on "insufficient income," since the building wouldn't count the value of the vouchers into their total income calculations, essentially rendering the vouchers useless.

On the flip side, the Commission is also filing similar complaints against management company and developer Omni New York, in spite of the fact that city records show dozens of voucher holders residing in their River Park Towers complex. "We absolutely never turn people away, and the only thing I can chalk it up to is some receptionist that didn't know what they were talking about," a spokesperson for the company told Gothamist. "I can't vouch for who was there at the time that that happened, but there are LINC vouchers there. We always take LINC vouchers, always have."

Besides questions of whether the city is enforcing the rules in an efficient manner, it can also be difficult for landlords to be reimbursed, which further disincentives them from following the letter of the law. (For more details, read the full article here.)

It will be interesting to see if the city's crackdown on voucher-refusing landlords has a tangible effect on the city's rates of homelessness over the coming year. If you think you've been discriminated against based on housing vouchers, the Human Rights Commission has a guide to filing complaints here.


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