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NYC Affordable Housing Resident Fears

Introduction by Smith Young “:)” Fear of navigating the ocean and falling off the edge of the earth was rational until discovering that the world isn’t flat.  Nothing wrong with that fear when based on an invalid premise and belief system which is the case for this report funded by a grant from the Urban Reporting Program of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism that does a good job describing the problem of a flat world, but doesn’t even indicate the root cause nor solutions, click “It’s the Economy Stupid“.  So let’s change the premise and get away from the School of Journalism and instead review the unbiased empirical finding by NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, click

Do “Low Income Housing Tax Credits” (LIHTC) Maintain Segregation?

for an analysis of the insidious effect of subsidies and non-market based policies contrasting an unbiased, click analysis of subsidized housing by the above NYU’s Furman Center against a biased  Report on the Distribution of Low Income Housing Tax Credits in the New York City Region.

If you want to be depressed the article below is just what the doctor ordered, produced by WNYC Radio with support from the School of Journalism grant, for the article with pictures click

NYC Section 8 residents talk about the horrors of affordable housing, fears of being forced out by money-hungry landlords

BY SPECIAL TO THE NEWS, Monday, May 16, 2016

Facing pressure to move by money-hungry landlords, Gloria Nieves and her neighbors resemble extras in a horror film as they shuffle through their Queens apartment building.

“I see all the people — walking zombies,” said Nieves, 57, who has lived in her pre-war Ridgewood home for 16 years.

Last year, her building was sold and longtime residents fear they will be forced to find new homes.

Some tenants in their situation are forced out by unscrupulous landlords who use questionable tactics — like neglecting to make repairs or failing to rid apartments of rodents. Apartments fall into disrepair and fail inspections, often forcing tenants from their homes, advocates say.

Over 2.5M people applied for NYC’s 2,600 affordable housing units

That sets up a mad search for available apartments — even as the city battles a homelessness crisis and an urgent need for affordable housing.

It’s a story heard around the city. But what sets Nieves and many of her neighbors apart is that they’re among more than 290,000 New Yorkers who have a Housing Choice Voucher, the federal rental subsidy better known as Section 8.

For 40 years, the Section 8 program has been a pillar of stability for low-income Americans. Because it gives people a choice of where to live, policymakers have also seen it as tool to reduce segregation and disperse poverty.

But interviews with more than two dozen Section 8 tenants, as well as experts and government officials, reveal that gentrification is eroding the stability provided by a voucher that was once the gold standard for low-income housing.

N.Y. urged to quickly move $2B into affordable housing programs

Displaced tenants search for months, sometimes fruitlessly, for landlords who will accept the voucher, mostly in a diminishing number of struggling neighborhoods.

“Why would a landlord want to bother with everything when the private rental market is really robust?” said Rutgers University professor James DeFilippis, an urban planner who has studied Section 8.

In the white-hot housing market that’s emerged since the recession, Section 8 tenants have increasingly wound up in high-poverty neighborhoods, mostly on the outskirts of the city, according to interviews and an analysis of 15 years of federal data by WNYC and the Daily News.

In fact, compared to all poor New Yorkers, Section 8 tenants are especially likely to live in hard-up areas.

Last year, more than 82% of voucher tenants lived in census tracts with poverty rates of 20% or more; overall, 70% of poor New Yorkers lived in such tracts.

Between 2000 and 2009, things had gotten better — the number of Section 8 tenants in poor neighborhoods fell by more than 10 percentage points, from about 85% to 75%.

Sen. Schumer helps fight city’s homeless problem

But since 2009, as the city has boomed, those gains have been all but obliterated.

“Vouchers were held out to be the magic bullet. They’re not a magic bullet,” said Vicki Been, commissioner of the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which runs one of three Section 8 programs in New York. “They’re still doing very important work.”

As gentrification sweeps across the city, the best choice New York’s Section 8 tenants have at living in a good neighborhood may be to stay put — and hope the advantages of high-income areas and more diverse neighborhoods come to them.

But a hungry real estate market and city bureaucracy are making even that hard to do.

Sanders visits Bronx housing project during last NY campaign

To qualify for Section 8 in New York City, a family of three has to live off less than about $45,000 a year.

Three agencies in New York, that collectively run the country’s largest Section 8 program, have used them as a safety net for the city’s most vulnerable.

In New York, Section 8 tenants live off an average of about $16,000 a year. More than 75% are women, and more than 30% are women with kids. But there are a limited number of vouchers — and more than 120,000 names on the waiting list.

Two months ago Nieves and a group of Latina women pulled up plastic chairs in the lobby of their building on Summerfield St. A dozen of them pay rent with the help of Section 8. Kenny Minaya, their housing lawyer from Catholic Migration Services, told them they were going to court to force the landlord to make repairs.

In Section 8, each unit must pass regular inspections in order to ensure the safety of the residents. If a landlord fails to banish lead paint or leaks, mold or mice, the New York City Housing Authority, which administers the program in the Ridgewood building, tells the tenant to find a new place.

De Blasio says his wife ‘kept him grounded in the bedroom’

So for these women, repairs could mean the difference between keeping their homes and being forced to move.

Advocates say landlords have intentionally failed inspections as a tool to push tenants out.

“It’s kind of like a backdoor way to remove Section 8 tenants and really to lose units of affordable housing,” Minaya said.

The Ridgewood building is owned by a company called Silvershore Properties, one of dozens of investment firms buying property in once-ignored neighborhoods. Founded in 2008, Silvershore now owns more than 130 buildings, according to its website — making it one of the city’s busiest buyers of multi-family housing.

The company did not respond to requests for comment.

Silvershore has flipped some buildings. It emptied others with the help of hefty move-out payments, former tenants said, then renovated them and put them back on the market at higher rents.

Silvershore paid $10.6 million last fall for the building on Summerfield St. in rapidly gentrifying Ridgewood.

Tasha Rivera, 34, has lived there in a one-bedroom apartment with her children for almost a decade. Her voucher kept her afloat, even when she’s had to deal with lead paint, a broken shower, and skittering roaches and mice.

Rivera wasn’t surprised when she got a letter from NYCHA telling her that her apartment failed an inspection. It wasn’t the first time.

In the past, a phone call to her landlord ironed it out. The landlords in poorer neighborhoods used to have an incentive to fix the issues — losing Section 8 tenants meant giving up a steady rent that was often higher than what others in the neighborhood could afford.

But Ridgewood is hip now. Rents are higher, and the apartment would be worth more vacant. When Rivera called Silvershore, she said she couldn’t get a response.

“It’s like you’re calling outer space,” she said.

Ridgewood isn’t the richest neighborhood — a quarter of its residents live in poverty but Rivera wants to stay.

“It’s hard to find a neighborhood where you can raise a kid, where you can live safely,” Rivera said. “When I walk around here, I’m not scared. I don’t want to move.”

She feels her kids are safe, the schools are decent and she’s seen a raise in her job at a cancer clinic. If she has to move, she said her choices only get worse.

“Nobody wants Section 8 anymore,” she said. “Even when I try to get an apartment somewhere else, I call and everybody says, ‘Section 8, no, no, no.’”

Nearly 500 Section 8 tenants, whose vouchers were administered by NYCHA, had to move because their apartments failed inspection last year. Of those, 160 transferred to new apartments. But 335 couldn’t find new homes and lost their vouchers.

Recognizing the program’s shortcomings, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is proposing a change.

To spur people to move to better neighborhoods, it would peg the voucher’s value to rents in a given zip code instead of the whole metro area. That means the voucher would be worth more in some neighborhoods than others.

But unless that comes with more funding, city officials think it would only help a few, and hurt most.

“The notion that you will raise a little in Chelsea and lower in East New York, is not going to get people to Chelsea but it is going to hurt people using their vouchers in East New York,” said Been, of HPD.

Sonia Watson, 41, has seen what happens when a voucher’s value drops — she ended up homeless.

For 18 years, her voucher helped her raise her son in the north Bronx. They were living in a two-bedroom apartment in Williamsbridge when the federal government sequestered money for housing during the budget battles of 2013.

To qualify for Section 8 in New York City, a family of three has to live off less than about $45,000 a year.

(KEVIN C. DOWNS/FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Hit hard, HPD had to take vouchers away from a few in order to safeguard the majority.

HPD told Watson she was “over housed” and had to either move to a one-bedroom apartment with her teenage son or pay the difference herself.

That was an extra $200 a month, a heavy lift for a counselor making $30,000 a year. She works at a social service agency helping people with mental illnesses to live independently.

“It was very difficult,” Watson said. “No matter what I do to put [money] to rent and budget, something else comes up.”

She fell behind on her rent, and last July, just before her son Sheldon graduated high school, she was evicted. He’s off at college now, and Watson has been homeless for nearly a year.

She’s staying with friends while hunting for a landlord who will take her $1,425-a-month voucher.

“I am tired of all the run around I am getting,” she said. “I call several places and they don’t have any apartment. The Section 8 I have is not covering their rent.”

Because of a lack of affordable housing, Section 8 tenants face competition from the poorest New Yorkers.

A near-record 58,000 people sleep in shelters each night. Scrambling for a roof, any roof, the city has put people in hotels, old schools — and in thousands of private apartments, mostly in the Bronx, that would otherwise be available for Section 8.

NYC Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been calls for increased federal resources in NYC for affordable housing at a press conference in April.

(JEFFERSON SIEGEL/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

A review of public records found that apartments in more than 60 buildings where Section 8 tenants live are now being used as so-called “cluster-site” housing for the homeless.

On the sidewalk outside 1453 Walton Ave. in the Bronx on March 11, a group of older women talked about the change.

Margarita, a Section 8 tenant who declined to give her last name, said the landlord began to move homeless families in five years ago.

“If I can pay $1,500 a month but she has three kids and the landlord can get $3,000 for her, who are they going to pick?” she said.

They pick homeless families like Nijer Reddick’s. She arrived nine months ago with her husband and two young children after being doubled-up with a relative in Brooklyn.

“You get more from the shelter people anyway than you do from the regular tenants,” Reddick said.

The city rents 3,000 “cluster-site” apartments to house the homeless.

Despite rats, peeling paint and gas leaks, the city pays an average of $2,450 a month for each one. That’s hundreds more than a Section 8 voucher would provide.

It has exacerbated pressure on the central Bronx, which has historically had the most Section 8 tenants in the city, and is also feeling the pressures of gentrification.

Ridgewood isn’t the richest neighborhood — a quarter of its residents live in poverty — but Rivera said she wants to stay.

(KEVIN C. DOWNS/FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Mayor de Blasio has vowed to close the cluster sites, but it’s been slow going. The administration has started new voucher programs for the homeless, giving landlords a menu to choose from. But like those with Section 8, the homeless are struggling to find takers.

In a city saturated with vouchers and low-income residents who need them, policymakers still say Section 8 remains one of the country’s best tools to get, and keep, low-income families housed. It’s one piece of a patchwork puzzle of federal, state and local programs.

“It has more flexibility and more potential than the other levers,” said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Kathy O’Regan. “We have to get all the levers moving.”

There’s no doubt about the need. Section 8 tenants make up nearly half of the 4.8 million Americans who get some kind of rental assistance. But almost three quarters of those poor enough to qualify don’t get any help at all. Unlike food stamps or health care, housing is not an entitlement, and need far outstrips supply.

That’s why the women in Ridgewood are fighting to hang onto their homes. Last month, Silvershore agreed to make the repairs by July or be held in contempt. The women won — for now.

Jalapeno lights twinkle outside the colorful first-floor apartment where Gloria Nieves has lived for 16 years.

She gets calls from friends and family about buildings sold and apartments lost. The worry keeps her up at night.

Asked what she would do if she had to move, Nieves shook her head.

“I don’t even want to think about that,” she said.

This article was produced by WNYC Radio with support from a grant by the Urban Reporting Program of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

For an overview of HUD’s new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, AFFH, click AFFH overview  for an article by Stanley Kurtz.

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