Housing Story:

Some Rental Owners Refuse to Take Vouchers Despite The New Program

By Mantai Chow

It has been a year since 35-year-old Melissa, who is unemployed and has been without her own home for a year, started her apartment hunt with housing voucher.

“I would like to get a one-bedroom apartment for myself,” she said, adding that she is living with a friend in Manhattan.

Waiting for a meal outside a shelter on 1st Avenue from a charity group, Melissa, who wanted to be identified only by her first name, said she went to six different real estate agents in hopes of renting an apartment. But then reality hit her hard.

“They said no place in Manhattan is gonna accept a voucher,” she said. “I gave up searching downtown.”

A month ago, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio authorized a $10 million emergency program that provides rental subsidies to tenants facing eviction, domestic violence survivors transitioning out of shelters and recovering addicts discharged from treatment. Recipients pay only 30 percent of their income for the rent and the city covers the rest. The goal is to help people find housing and to prevent homelessness. But some owners break the law by refusing to rent apartments to people with subsidies.

In Brooklyn, a studio apartment was up for rent for $1,100 per month in September. Its owner responded promptly to a request for house viewing. “Sure,” the owner said in a text message. “Would you like to come tomorrow?”

The reporter then asked if housing voucher would be accepted.

“No voucher,” the owner answered, and brought the conversation to an end.

Besides this new voucher program, numerous similar programs have already been put in place by the state and the city. Kenny Singh, 35, a real estate broker, who handles markets in Brooklyn and Queens, said at least 30 to 40 percent of his potential tenants are with voucher programs. He admitted that a lot of landlords he knows will not accept the programs because of bad experiences they have had with tenants. One group of tenants, he said, brought in extra people to live with them.

“They (tenants) terrorized that building,” Singh said. “They were up all night. They smoked in the hallway. It was terrible.”

“When they get the place, they trash the place,” he said. “A lot of them do. I am not saying all of them.”

He said people with jobs tend to act “a little more civil” than those who are unemployed and “have everything handed to them.”

Another reason why some landlords and brokers show reluctance to voucher programs, Singh said, is because of the inefficiency of the government. 

“It takes forever to get the checks or to get the leases approved or to get the inspection approved,” he said, adding that brokers also have a hard time getting payments.

Singh has been working in real estate industry over 10 years. He said as gentrification is creeping into East New York, Brooklyn, one of his markets, landlords in the area have become less interested in voucher programs.             

“Now you are getting more people who are working and can pay for these apartments. Why deal with the program?” he said. “They’d rather deal with the cash-paying people.”            

The city’s Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination in housing based on source of income. Recently, the owners of Spring Creek Towers in East New York were sued for allegedly refusing to accept tenants using the city’s housing subsidy program. Gabriela Sandoval, policy analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless, said the lawsuit could serve as an example to show landlords the consequences facing them if they refused to take vouchers.

Sandoval said some landlords and brokers reject people with vouchers as casually as if it were legal to do so. 

“They don’t care,” she said. “I think they have been able to get away with it for so long that they just continue to do it.”

Sandoval disagreed with Singh’s suggestion that people with vouchers tend to trash rentals. She said the families she has visited were taking good care of their apartments. “Their places are pristine,” she said. “They are immaculate, even cleaner than my own apartment.”

She urges the city to provide more permanent housing with social services for those who are still struggling to rent with vouchers, like Melissa, whose year-long apartment hunt fell through.

“I just want to get myself together,” Melissa said. “Work, housing, everything.”