This summer, a 26-year-old mother of four in Williamsburg opened her mail to discover one of New York City’s rude ironies: she was about to be evicted for her own good.
The letter from the state housing agency, which controls her monthly rent subsidy, said that her two-bedroom apartment was overcrowded. She must either move into an apartment with at least three bedrooms, or lose the benefit. But with a rent ceiling of $1,095 and a two-month deadline, her prospects didn’t look good.
It wasn’t the first time that she and her family had been told to look for a larger apartment, but their income simply won’t allow it. Her husband, who works full-time, earns only $175 a week, and she cares full-time for their four–soon to be five–children. Their rent for their apartment is currently $920 a month, and their Section 8 subsidy covers $553. With food stamps, they just manage to scrape by.
“In the past, it was more like a suggestion,” said the resident, who asked to remain unnamed. “It was, ‘Look, we’ll give you more money if you get a larger place.’ But now, they’re demanding it. That’s when I started panicking.”
But finding a spacious apartment below market rates in this increasingly trendy neighborhood is extremely unlikely, says Eleanor Bader, a Legal Services social worker who represents the family. DHCR’s $1,095 cap for a three-bedroom unit–utilities included–is unrealistic. “Williamsburg is an up-and-coming area,” she said. “Developers are moving in.”
Blanca Cardona, a DHCR supervisor familiar with the case, said that the state agency has no choice but to enforce the federal government’s overcrowding rules for housing subsidies. “We get audited also,” she said. “We have to stay within the parameters of the law.”
According to Cardona, it’s not uncommon to find a family of eight or ten living in a two-bedroom apartment. “It’s not safe. It’s not healthy,” she said. Of the 3,500 New York City families receiving DHCR Section 8 subsidies, only four have received similar code-enforcement notices, and of those not one has landed on the street, she added. “No one becomes homeless,” she said. “That’s not the objective.”
While individual reports suggest that the state has recently become more strict about enforcing these rules, a spokesperson for DHCR could not confirm any recent policy change.
Representatives from the agency did say that they had granted the family a six-month extension to find an apartment. “We’re not here to displace people,” said Cardona. “We just need to know that they’re looking.”