12,000-Unit Bronx Housing Complex Must Accept Housing Vouchers, Judge Rules
A 12,000-unit Bronx housing complex could soon open to homeless applicants with city-issued rental vouchers after a state judge on Friday ordered the owner to accept a family it had locked out by “irrational” and discriminatory income eligibility rules.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Richard Latin sided with a 34-year-old mother of two who sued the owners of Parkchester in the eastern Bronx after she was denied an apartment because she did not earn at least $62,000 a year, even though the CityFHEPS voucher she received from the Department of Social Services (DSS) would cover the full rent. The woman, who has been sleeping on the floor of a friend’s one-bedroom Parkchester apartment with her 1- and 5-year-old children, said an income that high would have made her ineligible for a voucher in the first place.
It is a violation of the city’s human rights law for landlords to deny apartments to applicants because they use government subsidies to pay their rent. The practice, known as Source of Income (SOI) discrimination, is one of the most common forms of housing discrimination in the city, though rarely enforced. The decision Friday marks the first time a New York court has ruled that minimum-income policies for people with full-rent subsidies violate city and state laws, said Housing Works senior attorney Armen Merjian, who represented the family trying to get into Parkchester.
“This decision echoes what every other court and human rights commission to examine this issue has said, which is that it is illegal to impose a minimum income requirement upon those with a full voucher and thus no rent share,” Merjian said.
On Friday, Latin ordered Parkchester to process the woman’s application and either give her an apartment or place her on a waitlist if a unit was not available. “This is exactly the type of case that injunctive relief is meant for,” he wrote. “The brutality of homelessness is too great a risk.”
Latin’s decision came after a Thursday hearing in which he twice slammed Parkchester’s minimum income rule as a “Catch-22” for poor applicants with rent subsidies.
“If the plaintiff was making $62,000, she wouldn’t be eligible to get a voucher that will pay the entire rent,” Latin said. In court papers and at the hearing, Parkchester’s attorney contended that the development’s management company uses the same requirement regardless of an applicant’s source of income.
“There’s a huge homelessness problem in New York City. How can you cut these people out completely?” Latin said in response at Thursday’s hearing. “How could we ever fix that problem using your uniform method for everybody?”
The judge questioned why the company would force an applicant with a full housing voucher to earn a multiplier of the annual rent if the city covers the entire cost, and suggested that Parkchester uses more onerous rules for voucher holders than for applicants without subsidies. Parkchester’s “refusal to accept her housing subsidy…is the cause of her homelessness,” he wrote.
Parkchester Preservation Management, which manages about half of the rentals in the 12,000-unit complex, did not return an email or phone calls seeking comment on the decision Friday. This story will be updated if they respond.
Parkchester first opened in 1940 as a whites-only community but has evolved under new owners into a diverse, mixed income neighborhood with 6,300 rental units located blocks from the 6 Train. The planned community features an elementary school, a grocery store, restaurants, a Macy’s and well-maintained parks with live outdoor performances.
The 6,000 or so rental apartments owned by Parkchester Preservation Company and managed by its affiliate Parkchester Preservation Management are priced at relatively affordable rates, allowing working class New Yorkers to move in, raise families or retire. The woman who sued the company said she spent her teen years in Parkchester, where her parents still live, and has enrolled her son in the local school.
“The community is a home to me and the place in which I want to stay and raise my children,” the woman wrote to the court. “I am desperate to secure a home for myself and my children.”
For years, however, Parkchester failed to accept a single applicant with a rental assistance voucher issued by the Department of Social Services (DSS), including families in homeless shelters, a top city official wrote in court papers.
“That is particularly striking because Parkchester’s units fall well below the monthly rent cap for CityFHEPS vouchers,” wrote Sara Zuiderveen, a senior advisor for housing and homelessness at DSS. Parkchester’s website lists one-bedroom apartments starting at $1,525 and two-bedrooms starting at $1,725, lower even than CityFHEPS voucher values prior to a 2021 increase.
The ruling could have broad implications in New York City, where real estate firms frequently cite minimum-income requirements when denying applicants with housing vouchers that pay their entire rent.
Agents, brokers and landlords also often steer applicants with vouchers away from certain rentals, flat-out reject them or stop taking their calls—a practice known as “ghosting.” Source of income discrimination accounts for more fair housing complaints in New York City than any other illegal practice, according to annual CCHR reports.
Nevertheless, as City Limits has documented, the enforcement units tasked with cracking down on such discrimination have shed staffers in recent years. CCHR’s Source of Income Unit lost its last full-time attorney in April and Mayor Eric Adams has pledged to shift six enforcement positions from DSS to CCHR.
The two agencies have prioritized rapid intervention, with staffers fielding complaints from voucher holders and then calling the alleged offender to remind them that source of income discrimination is illegal. The staffers instruct the owner or agent to lease the apartment to the applicant or risk legal action.
Many fair housing advocates have instead urged the city to crack down on owners and agents who discriminate against voucher-holders with lawsuits and penalties that discourage others.
“New York City must be tough on real estate crime,” said Housing Rights Initaitive President Aaron Carr at a May press conference announcing an earlier lawsuit against firms accused of SOI discrimination. “The best city in the country shouldn’t have the worst homelessness crisis in the country.”
With homelessness on the rise, the court decision could open doors at Parkchester to families in shelter or otherwise unhoused. On a sunny Friday morning, existing Parkchester residents hailed the well-kept grounds and the access to shopping, school and transportation.
Source: City Limits NYC. Click on this link for the full story https://citylimits.org/2022/08/01/12000-unit-bronx-housing-complex-must-accept-housing-vouchers-judge-rules/