In a rare move, NYCHA is reopening the waitlist for a rental assistance program that has helped tens of thousands of New Yorkers afford apartments.

Adi Talwar

Apartment buildings in Manhattan.

After a nearly 15-year closure, the New York City Housing Authority will reopen the Section 8 waitlist on June 3, giving New Yorkers across 200,000 households a fresh shot at a coveted, federally-backed rental voucher.

Mayor Eric Adams first teased the move during his State of the City address back in January.

Launched in the 1970s by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program helps low-income individuals and families afford apartments on the private market. Voucher holders typically pay 30 percent of their income on rent, while the housing subsidy covers the rest.

While the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and New York State Division of Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) also issue Section 8 vouchers, NYCHA remains the largest Section 8 administrator in the nation, according to the authority’s CEO, Lisa Bova-Hiatt.

“Affordability is really nonexistent in New York at this moment,” Bova-Hiatt said Tuesday at a panel discussion held at the NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. “Without vouchers, without taking that rent burden away from our residents, it affects every other aspect of their lives.”

NYCHA’s application will be available for just a week: It will open online at this link on Monday, June 3 and close Sunday, June 9 at 11:59 p.m. (a paper application can only be requested as a reasonable accommodation, according to NYCHA; more info on accessing one can be found here). 

Heads of household must generally be at least 18 years old to qualify, and one family member must be a U.S. citizen or a non-citizen with an eligible immigration status. Households must earn at or below 50 percent of the Area Median Income (for instance, a single individual can make no more than $54,350 annually, while a family of three’s gross income cannot exceed $69,900).

After the application period closes, 200,000 households will be randomly selected through a lottery to be added to the waitlist, “ensuring that all… have equal opportunity to be chosen regardless of when their applications were received, according to the city. 

This group will join a much smaller pool of 3,759 households currently on the waitlist, NYCHA confirmed. The authority will then aim to issue 1,000 vouchers each month, until it hits its maximum distribution. NYCHA is currently capped at 115,346 active vouchers and has 96,509 Section 8 participants either leased up or searching, about 84 percent of that total. 

Once on the waitlist, applications will be given a priority code, with preference going first to applicants who are in “inaccessible housing” and have mobility challenges, and then to seniors and people with disabilities. 

During the first four months of the current fiscal year—July through October of 2023—NYCHA placed 3,193 Section 8 applicants in private apartments with vouchers, according to the Mayor’s Management Report. That was up from just 582 during the same period a year prior, a boost attributed to thousands of Emergency Housing Vouchers the city received from the federal government in 2021.

New York City also funds its own voucher program, the City Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement, or CityFHEPS, which 41,000 households currently use. But Section 8 is considered a gold standard in the industry, thanks to its longevity and federal backing.

Though the vouchers are in high demand, finding an apartment through the Section 8 program has proven challenging in New York City, where low-cost rentals are currently scarce.

Households with NYCHA-issued Section 8 vouchers generally have 180 days, or about six months, to find an apartment and submit a so-called rental packet to the authority for approval, though NYCHA can offer extensions under certain circumstances.  

And while it’s illegal for city property owners to reject a tenant for using a rental subsidy, the practice—called source of income discrimination—is among the most common forms of housing bias in New York

Just 53 percent of the city’s Section 8 voucher holders found an apartment in 2022, according to a Furman Center analysis published Tuesday, lower than the national rate of 55 percent.

Those New Yorkers who did find a home with their voucher in 2022 searched for an average of 171 days, compared to just 71 days nationally. 

“Any voucher program, but certainly NYCHA’s voucher program, is only as good as our partner landlords,” Bova-Hiatt said at Tuesday’s panel. “If we do not have partner landlords willing to participate in the program, we’re just spinning our wheels.”

NYCHA’s Section 8 waitlist previously closed in December 2009 due to insufficient funds, according to the Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit organization that works with homeless individuals in New York City.

At that time, the New York Times reported that the authority had close to 128,000 families on its waitlist and just over 3,000 families had to stop their apartment search due to the program’s termination.

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