Many landlords’ refusal to accept Section 8 tenants has become a prevalent problem in New York City. Housing activists are debating whether race and class play a part in this, since these tenants are predominantly Hispanic and black, according to an Oct. 30 article in The New York Times.
Section 8 tenants pay about 30 percent of their income toward rent while the vouchers they receive from the government cover the remaining balance. Those eligible for this assistance earn no more than 50 percent of the metropolitan area’s median income or no more than $35,000 for a family of four in New York.
This exclusion of vouchers by landlords is difficult to digest when the Section 8 program has guaranteed landlords a steady source of rent for decades. So, why this sudden change of heart?
It appears as if the property owners feel the program is too troublesome and, as the rental market is at its peak, there is no need to take on the burden of a Section 8 tenant. They feel the program is full of payment delays and administrative problems. There is just one problem with this decision: where does this leave the tenant? Bill de Blasio, a Brooklyn Democrat and a former regional director of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, has introduced a law that would force landlords to accept vouchers. Landlord groups argue that this bill is unfair. But this makes one wonder – wasn’t it more unfair to leave these tenants with the burden of being homeless or left struggling for a place to live?
Supporters of the de Blasio bill claim that landlords often reject Section 8 applicants as a way to cover up their discrimination against single mothers and black and Hispanic tenants. There is no proof of this, but supporters say that much of the discrimination goes unreported.
Officials in other jurisdictions that have anti-discrimination laws, however, believe that discrimination against Section 8 is very real and is a continuing problem.
There is a New Jersey law that actually prohibits landlords from refusing tenants who pay using a Section 8 voucher.
Landlords who do not follow these rules can be fined up to $10,000. The state’s Division on Civil Rights has investigated 180 cases of source-of-income discrimination since 2002, when the amendment was added to the state’s Law Against Discrimination.
“Many owners have been subjected to baseless discrimination claims as a result of the amendment to the law,” says Tracy Goldstein, a lawyer who represents property owners in New York City.
The Bloomberg administration also had concerns about de Blasio’s bill at an April hearing, arguing that it would limit a property owner’s ability to make good financial decisions and would make Section 8 mandatory.
As of Sept. 30, there were 10,763 voucher holders seeking apartments, the largest number in history according to Housing Authority officials. With these numbers, it will be even more difficult for tenants to find apartments because of competition.
Bill de Blasio’s bill is a step in the right direction. The bill has its flaws and needs to be formatted in a way that will please both the landlords and the tenants. There should also be a law in New York City to provide fair treatment to vouchers and protect them from any acts of discrimination.