Realtors and landlords are finding ways to reject voucher holders with essentially no consequence through the setting of exorbitant income requirements.’

NYC Commission on Human Rights

A poster aimed at curbing housing discrimination.

Fair Housing Laws in New York aim to offer protections to voucher holders and ensure that denying them the ability to use their voucher for an apartment is a form of illegal discrimination. However, real estate companies that operate in bad faith continue to avoid renting to those who have housing vouchers. The kind of discrimination whereby some of these companies simply outright reject tenants because of their vouchers is widely known about and reported on. In fact, our organization, Housing Rights Initiative, investigated these real estate companies and filed a lawsuit against 88 landlords and brokers in New York City. 

However, an even more insidious form of discrimination threatens to decimate the Section 8 program as we know it. Realtors and landlords are finding ways to reject voucher holders with essentially no consequence through the setting of exorbitant income requirements.

What are income requirements? Many landlords, brokers, and property managers in New York City require an individual’s gross annual income to equal 40 times their monthly rent. Most New Yorkers make significantly less than what’s needed to rent in New York City and in many neighborhoods, one would have to make more than 100 percent of the borough-wide median income to simply qualify for an apartment. 

So how do income requirements affect voucher holders? There are a couple of different scenarios a voucher holder could find themselves in. What if a realtor or landlord tells a voucher holder that there is an income requirement of 40 times the rent (or greater) to lease the unit, and that the Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) would not be considered as a source of income? This realtor or landlord would be discriminating against the prospective tenant, as their income without a voucher would never be close to reaching the income requirement. 

Another more sophisticated form of income discrimination takes place when a realtor or landlord states that Section 8 would be accepted, but that there is an income requirement of 40 times the rent (or greater) for the unit. In almost all cases, the landlord will set this requirement on the listed rent instead of what the tenant will be paying towards the rent. For example, if the rent for a unit is $1,500 and the tenant portion an individual with a voucher would be contributing is $500, the calculation should be 40 x $500, equaling a required yearly income of $20,000, which would be a potential threshold a voucher holder could meet. However, most landlords will set an income requirement on the listed rent, which in this example would be 40 x $1,500, equaling a yearly income of $60,000—a much more exorbitant requirement. This application of an income requirement inherently prices out Section 8 voucher holders, regardless of the value of their voucher.

When income requirements are applied to Section 8 voucher holders, you create an environment in which voucher holders would never be able to afford to rent a majority of apartments in New York City. According to the New York City Housing Authority, the average income of a Section 8 household in 2019 was $17,150. For context, the average rent for a studio apartment in that same year was $2,700, meaning families of any size would not even be able to rent a studio with income requirements in place. This is an incredibly threatening issue to the Section 8 program. 

New York City is attempting to counter this kind of covert discrimination. The City Commission for Human Rights (CCHR) interprets the law as preempting any such calculation; when a voucher program calculates the tenant’s rent based on their income, the agency administering the voucher has already determined that they can afford to pay their required portion. “Where the tenants’ rental portion is calculated based on the tenants’ income, it is a violation of the Law to impose any additional income requirements on applicants for housing,” CCHR also asserts. However, while we may have the protections in place, we need a proper enforcement mechanism that can counter this discrimination in practice. 

What will happen to voucher holders inside and outside of New York who have to face this complicated and little known form of discrimination? What is stopping landlords from setting income requirements that price out interested renters who have a voucher? The answers to these questions may be more straightforward than we realize.Localities that have source of income discrimination laws need to follow the example set in New York City to create explicit language to counter the practice. States like California already have income requirement protections in their laws and New Mexico has a bill in its legislature that will confront this issue head on.

In New York, local governments and state leaders in Albany need to address the issue head on and provide agencies and organizations with funding and resources to create a robust enforcement mechanism and conduct comprehensive discrimination testing. And nationally, our federal government should bolster Fair Housing laws to make sure Section 8 recipients and all voucher holders can effectively use their vouchers to find housing. 

Housing Rights Initiative will continue to educate the public about this kind of discrimination, and combat it however it can. Because in many cases, the only thing that stands in the way of a voucher holder obtaining housing is the discriminatory practices of a broker or landlord.

Joshua Murillo is the deputy director of Housing Rights Initiative, a housing watchdog group.

4 thoughts on “Opinion: How Income Requirements Harm NYC Voucher Holders

  1. This is really sad. I have been experiencing this for months. I called about 50 real estate offices and spoke with about 30 landlords and they don’t want the vouchers. The realtors wants to help people find homes but the landlords are stiffnecked and wicked. This is not just affecting clients but robbing realtors of making extra money to feed their family as well. These landlords have become extreme narcissist. Profits over people. They forget what it’s like to be in need. It is up to the officials and powers that be to fight for poor people. If a country does not fight for its poor and destitute, it will not prosper.

    • Honestly it’s the deal between them they go hand an hand they say you kn it’s a broker fee an first month an sucurity.which you have to pay I said yes you will get it I’m going to public assistance an he said when was the last time I moved miss the are only giving you half foi the broker an before I could gather my thoughts he said if I see a landlord I will pass it on an it clicked the landlords don’t even return our texts the let the realtor send messages from a bot an when it can’t understand your response it is tellls u it’s a message center. I had 2 tour I didn’t get either with they are on our site craigslist an now housing connect the same apartments we are out of options unless we are willing to put or safty on the line an do like the ansetors door to door hunting. But a realtor that I said do u kn any where that helps voucher holders. She said go to rentrezi.com. I must say they look totally the best I seen yet it’s for us. Because our site has the crooks to they are the same ppl who I been seeing since they approved my section 8 .they are free I’m goin on the hunt now I stay lookin all-night an start looking from dawn to dust thank God I have insomnia.good luck we need it have a good night . An just peek at rentrezi .com

  2. Believe it or not this happens in affordable housing, you would think that affordable housing being regulated by the government would not be rejected for not meeting the minimum income requirements. While many applications do allow for a person to specify whether they have or use section 8 vouchers,many owners aren’t familiar with other subsidies.

    Also,the nyc human rights commission has a backlog of cases and sometimes there aren’t clear cut answers. An alternative to trying to get a free legal service also can be a barrier as some don’t take new cases.

  3. I thought it was me I have been in New York housing connect for about 2 years I’ve continuously been reached my log number and I’ve given so many documents over and over to find out I don’t need the income requirements I’m about to hold up because I have an emergency situation I’m a victim and I’ve been trying to find an apartment I’m on my second extension I have one eye and I sit up all night writing numbers so I can call them the next day and start my days calling landlords they’ll get back to me what is my income I don’t make income requirements cuz I’m on SSI and my daughter is on public assistance and I say that’s so quick hoping them think about accepting me with the voucher the real estate said the other day from apartments.com oh how long has it been since you moved we’re not going to get paid for you nothing but half from that public assistance for the real estate but if I have anything else I’ll call you back if I find someone I’ve been through so much I’ve been through apartment off of these sites trlla affordable housing the landlords all seem to be on the same sites he said to me before I could even get in my Access-A-Riide after choosing a apartment how much can you give me today so I can take it off the market how much is are you prepared to leave today I’m asking you because I don’t do business like that it’s about money I was so disappointed I had went so far I have not given up but I don’t know what I’m going to do I pray they don’t take this out here I’ve not been able to get the safety and I’m doing everything I can all kind of applications and no I’m giving my documents to people over and over social and security cards and birth certificates and then getting tonight from the housing connect did I read the income guidelines I don’t know what else to do and I’m happy to put my email Robin housing 2020@gmail.com please help me I have glaucoma and I’m missing one eye now they removed it on February 28th my left eye I don’t know where I’m safe when I’m safe I’m not going to give up cuz I don’t want to die all I want to do is get the station for me and my child and it seems like on Friday I’m not in the battle this voucher was for emergency in July 2 years ago I’ve been trying to get the safety September I appreciate his voucher and I am trying my hardest at no prevail no real estate no landlord they will call me back last Sunday I was supposed to meet a person for a apartment an after standing for a hour I don’t know if I was happy or anxious I realized a hour passed an I finally got the courage to call I did not want to seem inpatient or pushy I wanted to be on my best it was like being poor and on a job interview desperate but scared so I called it was ringing so I redailed an was sent to voicemail after the third time I realized i was being declined an like a puppy I came home I didn’t even say anything to my daughter out of embarrassment that I had been the butt of some ones joke. Or maybe I dodged a bullet and I should be thanking God I made it back an embarrassment should have been the last thing I should have been feeling. I thank God for being with me is what I should have came home and told her… Again I put my email out here because I’m in need I hope these comments will help pave the way for others an the future voucher holders we are tenets too. Thank you so much for giving me a safe haven to be with ppl in mine an your an everyone’s perdictment. I was wondering how can I reach all thati income I asked my worker do I add my snap an monthly voucher amount. Robin

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