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Housing Vouchers Fail Homeless New Yorkers

LUCY GRINDON, HOST: Last week a coalition of housing groups issued a report confirming what many homeless families living in city shelters have been saying for decades–although the city has a program to pay rent for the unhoused, more often than not landlords won’t rent to them.

CLARA-SOPHA DALY, BYLINE: Natasha Bryant is 29-years-old and lives in the Palladia Women's Shelter in Harlem. For over a year and a half, she’s been hoping to move into her own apartment.

NATASHA BRYANT: It would mean a lot to me to be able to leave the shelter with the voucher and not be stuck in the system. It's as simple as that.

Bryant first entered the shelter to escape domestic violence, and now she hopes to use a city voucher program known as CityFHEPS to rent her own place. She started shopping for apartments and submitting applications, but she immediately hit a roadblock.

BRYANT: And unfortunately, when you go on these regular websites and you contact these landlords and you mention that you have the voucher, they don't get back to you at all.

DALY: Last week a report was released by a coalition of New York City housing rights organizations. The report found that landlords use a variety of tactics to keep homeless people out of their rental units.

Amy Blumsack is the director of organizing and policy at Neighbors Together, a nonprofit that helps homeless people find housing.

AMY BLUMSACK: The report found that ghosting is a commonly used tactic by landlords and brokers so as soon as they find out the person who is inquiring has a voucher they completely cut off communication and the person never hears from them again.

DALY: Landlords in New York are not permitted to discriminate against tenants based on the source of their income, including if they pay rent with housing vouchers from the city.

Their buildings have to pass additional inspections, and rent payments can be late or even cut off entirely if tenants have issues with other social services programs.

The anti-discrimination law is enforced by The New York City Commission on Human Rights. (make closer) Among many other types of discrimination cases, the Commission works to compel landlords to rent to tenants paying with vouchers.

Alicia Mcauley is a spokesperson for the commission.

ALICIA MCCAULEY: And 177 times that was effective and the person got housing, and they were able to retain their voucher, and the situation was amicably resolved.

In cases where this doesn’t work, the commission can also impose fines and require landlords to set aside units specifically for voucher holders.

Amy Blumsack agrees that the Commission on Human Rights is often able to resolve individual cases of discrimination, but she says they are just overwhelmed by the number of cases citywide.

BLUMSACK: And we think it is critical that the city increase the baseline funding for the source of income unit specifically because otherwise, people are stuck in homelessness longer.

Natasha Bryant is still living in the shelter – she says she is still holding out hope that a city voucher will be her ticket out of homelessness.

Clara-Sophia Daly, Columbia Radio News.


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