Discrimination Weakens N.Y. Housing Voucher System, Lawsuit Says
“As soon as I said, this is what I have, this is what my income is, immediately they are like ‘Oh no, I can’t take that,’” she said.
It was not until early 2021, when she enlisted the help of a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society, a nonprofit group, that she was able to finally find an apartment that would take her voucher after the group helped her file a discrimination complaint with the city.
Fannie Lou Diane, 44, an activist with Neighbors Together and Unlock NYC, both nonprofits that focus on housing issues, said it took roughly three years since she was evicted in 2019 from her Bronx apartment to find a place that would take her voucher.
“I’ve had a lot of brokers tell me the reason they don’t want to take people with CityFHEPS vouchers is because of the stigma that’s attached — historical stigmas of laziness, don’t want to work, don’t take care of their apartments, don’t take care of their children,” she said.
Even as renters encounter problems while applying, landlords and brokers say they are frustrated with inefficiency and delays in the program.
Sarah Saltzberg, an owner of Bohemia Realty Group, which brokers sales and rentals in New York City, said that programs like CityFHEPS require landlords to meet complex inspection standards — for instance, a certain amount of kitchen counter space or square footage in a bedroom — that sometimes narrowly disqualify homes for voucher holders.
It can also take several months to complete the paperwork, she said, meaning tenants remain in shelters while landlords miss out on potential rent payments, if they choose to wait at all instead of seeking another tenant. Many landlords and real estate agents do not know all the rules of how to comply with voucher program requirements, she said, adding that the city should work to revamp the system with input from renters, landlords and brokers.
“It feels so often that we are odds, and I just don’t know why it has to feel that way,” she said.
Andy Newman contributed reporting.