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 Division of Housing and Community Renewal, which controls her rent subsidy, said that her two-bedroom apartment was overcrowded and that 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 permit it. Her husband, who works full-time, earns $175 a week, and she cares full-time for their four–soon to be five–children. Their rent is currently $920 a month, and their Section 8 subsidy covers $553.
“In the past, it was more like a suggestion,” says the resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “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 an apartment in the neighborhood is extremely unlikely, says Eleanor Bader, a Legal Services social worker who represents the family. DHCR's cap of $1,095 per month–utilities included–is unrealistic. “Williamsburg is an up-and-coming area,” says Bader. “You can't find a three-bedroom apartment for $1,100.”
Blanca Cardona, a DHCR supervisor familiar with the case, says the agency is obligated to enforce the federal government's overcrowding rules for housing subsidies. “We get audited also,” she says. “We have to stay within the perimeters of the law.”
Cardona finds it's not uncommon to find a family of eight or ten living in a two-bedroom. “It's not safe. It's not healthy,” she says. According to Cardona, of the 3,500 families receiving Section 8 subsidies in the city, only four have received similar code-enforcement notices, and, of those, none has landed on the street. “No one becomes homeless,” she says. “That's not the objective.”
While individual reports suggest that the state has become stricter about enforcing these rules, a spokesperson for DHCR could not confirm any policy change. The agency did say that it had granted the family a six-month extension. “We're not here to displace people,” says Cardona. “We just need to know that they're looking.”