When Mayor Bloomberg announced in January that the city would distribute 22,000 additional Section 8 vouchers, it was seen by many as a victory for affordable housing despite the city’s housing shortage. But a new study shows that New Yorkers face a major obstacle in using such vouchers – landlords who won’t accept them.
The study, conducted by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) between January and March, concluded that only a fraction of the city’s landlords accept Section 8, the federal subsidy that helps tenants pay market-rate rents by generally covering about seventy percent of the total cost.
ACORN representatives acted as apartment hunters, making a total of 1,877 phone calls to various landlords. Of the property managers called, only 9 percent of all successfully reached both had apartments within the Section 8 price range – $1,000 for a studio or $1,075 for a one-bedroom – and accepted the vouchers. Classified listings yielded slightly better results at 13 percent, while a separate test calling Section 8 landlords listed with the city showed that 40 percent of those landlords had Section 8 units available.
A new bill in City Council, pursued independent of the study, takes aim at this disparity between demand and supply. City Councilmember Bill de Blasio is the lead sponsor on a bill to ban landlords from refusing potential tenants with Section 8 vouchers, which if passed would be similar to anti-discrimination laws on the books in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Chicago, among other places.
“I don’t think people realize the problems faced by people who have Section 8 vouchers and other government support … and find landlords who simply won’t take the vouchers,” de Blasio said at an ACORN rally held on the City Hall steps Wednesday. “That to me is a form of discrimination that has to stop.”
De Blasio first presented possible legislation three years ago based on anecdotal evidence from his west Brooklyn district. A preliminary hearing in the general welfare committee, which he chairs, was held following the rally Wednesday, during which penalties for violations were discussed but not decided on. A second hearing has yet to be scheduled, where the legislation will likely pass committee with the details worked out.
Jonathan Rosen, a spokesman for ACORN, said such legislation would fight a recent trend, which has seen rents creep up throughout the city in the past 10 years, meaning that a large low-income population is “fishing out of a much smaller pond.” He said that many landlords prefer slightly wealthier tenants over low-income ones who may be perceived as undesirable.
Judith Goldiner, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, compared the 22,000 new vouchers to the 300 available Section 8 apartments found by the ACORN study. “This is a program where the landlord is guaranteed rent. If they aren’t going to take the rent, where are our neighbors going to go?”