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MSCC’S HOMELESS AND HOUSING MEETING RECAP FOR May 4, 2021

(MSCC) Ashley Clemente, posted May 23, 2021

OVERVIEW: Emphasis on the New York City Commission on Human Rights as well as the DSS Fair Housing Litigation Unit, formerly known as Source of Income Discrimination Unit (SOI) about the work they do to help combat discriminatory practices and ways we can advocate for change.

CHAIRPERSON: John Mudd 

PURPOSE

The Homeless and Housing members, attendees, and speakers are here to share knowledge, ideas, and resources to identify problems and find solutions to the homeless crisis.

POLICY MEETING UPDATES:

The Policy committee discussed the difficulties of renting apartments while using housing vouchers. The challenges are not only the amount the vouchers cover but finding landlords who are willing to accept them. Paperwork and inspections are also slow and arduous to work through on top of the discrimination that many New Yorkers face while looking for housing (see Addendum B).

INTRODUCTIONS:

Daniel Pichinson, Ryan Chelsea Clinton, updates: Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccine appointments available at ryanhealth.org

Jarrett Lyons, Housing Works: Mental health and harm reduction services offered in the transit hub

Julia Chambers, Shower Power: On Monday Wednesday and Saturdays, mobile showers clothing and restrooms are available to use on 48th between 8th and 9th

Khepera YoungBlood and Sueranna Antoine, Main Chance, 120 east 32 Street, between Park and Lexington, open 24/7.

  • Main chance is currently serving 40 – 50 people from their food pantry for the community, every second Sunday from 2-3pm 
  • Main Chance also serves breakfast 7-8AM, lunch 12-1:15, and dinner 4-6PM everyday (people can come between those times for a sandwich too)
  • Fun Friday’s are for special catered meals to the public. They are working on a movie night, possibly for Friday to create a more social environment
  • Showers are available on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday’s in the morning to the public

SPEAKERS: 

  • Kevin Farley, Director of DSS housing litigation unit
  • Juliet Critsimillios, Staff attorney at the city commissioner city rights office 
  • Dustin Frankel, Supervising attorney is public housing accommodation
  • Ted Houghton, President of Gateway Housing

CHALLENGES TO SUITABLE HOUSING WITH VOUCHER AND RENTAL SUBSIDIES 

Kevin Farley is the director of DSS (Department of Social Services) Housing Litigation Unit (formerly and often referred to as the Source of Income discrimination Unit (SOI), which operates out of Department of Social Services and CCHR. This office administers DSS City FHEPS program and reviews SOI discrimination cases for all types vouchers.

Source of income discrimination is essentially voucher discrimination. It’s illegal to refuse an individual a housing opportunity because they intend to pay for rent with government assistance (City FHEPS, Section 8, etc.). Many times a person with need to secure an apartment with a HRA security deposit. Refusing to take it constitutes SOI discrimination. “We have to have good law that state this.”

Kevin’s organization has outreach services, personnel can come to shelters (virtually now) to inform New Yorkers about discrimination. They file pattern or practice cases based on voucher discrimination (there has to be several instances of discrimination). They do not file on behalf of individuals, but on the the behalf of the city. However, they can assist the client. Upon a complaint to SOI Unit through email or hotline:

  • They will investigate and reach out to the landlord and intervene to secure the housing opportunity
  • They reach out to clients and encourage them to make complaints
  • Discrimination usually happens after the client states that they have a voucher
  • Documenting patterns is important, even if there isn’t anything definitive
    • Ex. When paying a deposit or when asked about income and it is discovered a voucher is being used, and the communication with client stops
  • SOI department will do Fair Housing Testing: The tester will reach out to a broker or landlord to see if the treatment differentiates, if so, than the agency may file a case or attempt to intervene
  • If processing and payment delays by the city causing frustration for broker and landlords, the law says, the administrative burden is not an excuse to back out of a deal once the landlord takes a deposit
    • When the process becomes unduly strenuous, Kevin’s department will attempt to help expedite matters
  • Landlords have access to city FHEPS program, grants, and unit holds to make up for any delays from the city from vouchers

Juliet Critsimillios is a staff attorney at the City Commissioner on Human Rights office, who mainly tackle source of income discrimination cases. She works with Dustin Frankel, supervising attorney in housing and public accommodations, and Angela Stovall, intervention manager.

  • The Commission on Human Rights, CHR is a right to file agency, they get SOI complaints through interventions referred by their Info Line, community members and organizations. 
  • TCI short hand for pre-complaint intervention (similar to Kevin), when a person is being ghosted regarding their income or voucher use, they use “Pair Testing”
  • When intervention does not succeed, Juliet will file cases on behalf of the complainants and investigate for probable cause, which will often be settled rather than go to litigation
  • Working on behalf of the client and the city, with the “affirmative release,” in addition to imposing fines, will work with the landlords to secure other units for voucher holders within their set aside units
  • CHR works with Neighborhoods Together to help place folks using vouchers in these units
  • In terms of broker response, CHR will incentives them to work with voucher holders, will give training and help them to make policy changes
  • If the commissioner’s office has set aside agreements with the landlord for voucher holders there are provisions that require the landlord to notify about any vacancies within 5-7 business days
  • CHR does file cases on behalf of individual and on behalf of the city, whereas DSS files for the city, that’s the significant distinctions between the two agencies
  • Dustin Frankel, a supervising attorney in housing and public accommodations, said, even if the resident doesn’t want to file a formal case, they can inform their office, this will help discover discriminatory pratices
  • Dustin also advises to keep track of all records, text, calls, and any other interaction that you have with the landlord which will help your case
  • All city housing takes government vouchers

CHR: You need to file a complaint through the info line, assigned a staff attorney to do intake, they will prioritize cases to avoid a lost rental opportunity

Q & A

Questions: Charisma, How do we have regulation, oversight on the set asides with new developments around the city?

Juliet answers, The set asides in developments which are suppose to allocate for low income folks, but what does that mean? There are vacancies but the rents are too high. New developments have rents too high with no space remotely close to the low income bracket.

Followup comment, Charisma, too many vacancies, the (Barkley Center) housing building recently finished sits with many units empty, is working to gentrify her neighborhood.

Question: How are we keeping track of the set asides?

Juliet has monitoring provisions on the units coming through their agencies, they keep track of the lease length, available units

Kevin, assumes that HPD is monitoring the set asides meant for low income for affordable units in new developments. 

Question: Sancere More, is there a resource with landlords who are more accepting of voucher users?

As DSS is concerned, they don’t have listings of landlords who are exclusively for voucher users. All landlords are supposed to except vouchers. DSS will not endorse landlords. 

If you have a voucher that will cover the rent, there should be no review of income requirement, and an income requirement is SOI and should be reported, and DSS will investigate and do interventions. There is a strong law on security deposit voucher, make the referrals, the DSS will intervene, unless they are small owner occupied.

Question: Does NYS DOS Licensing division send out regulations regarding the voucher program? 

Brokers are supposed to aware of the laws, and it’s doubtful any information is being decimated by the licensing division.

Request: Allison asks for a contact for HPD City FHEPS, Section 8, supportive housing in Harlem, her process is being stalled

Question: Are 80/20 suppose to accept vouchers?

Dustin says, every building is suppose to accept vouchers; 80/20 and tax credit buildings will often have a minimum income requirement, and are not in the regulatory agreements governing the building; CHR has filed cases for people who were denied based on the minimum income requirements; minimums should never be a reason to be denied, if it is indexed to the voucher or pays the entire rent. Commonly seen, developments will have published minimums and will not exempt voucher recipients, this is unlawful.

Juliet, the law was expanded to require all landlords (city and state) to accept vouchers and to include unemployment as income.

ADAPTIVE REUSE OF COMMERCIAL SPACE

  • Ted Houghton: turning hotels into permanent affordable housings is a real opportunity because hotels are in distress, we need to be intentional in the details, and that’s what our Adaptive Reuse Forum will do, have a fuller discussion, delve deep into what we need, speak to the importance of this opportunity, and how best to motivate production of housing with our resources to serve our public
  • New York is not able to create housing because we’re stuck in simple obstacles while other states are busily creating massive amounts of housing
  • We’re building record number of housing, 1,500 – 2,000 new supportive housing units a year, a record amount, but compare it to the 60,000 homeless people who sleep in shelters every night, it’s clear we will never build our way out of the homeless crisis. We need to super charge what is being currently done, add to the inventory
  • In regards to the amenities: Every development project is different, some will have full kitchens, some will have kitchenettes, the type of hotel may warrant one type over the other, and the size and population (supportive, affordable…) the configuration of the hotel will have something to say too. Some will have micro apartments. There will be an assortment of units for an assortment of needs.

Question: Who or how would a person access the route overseeing this process, and who is “we”?

  • We, everyone is included, we’re in this together
  • In terms of accessing the process: This is new programs and funding we’re trying to create, got a 100 million dollars passed in Albany for hotel to housing conversion, but the rules on how that money can be spent have not been established
  • The human resources has a program called the master lease. In the past they have helped nonprofits by using this program to lease entire buildings for a permanent housing, now they are using it to buy a building to use it for deeply affordable housing
  • The lottery system’s purpose is to be unbiased and give everyone an equal chance to see housing opportunities, it’s a problem for the low income person, because the affordable housing situation in New York is so terrible

COMMUNTIY CONCERNS

  • Charisma White is frustrated that the city is not concerned with taking care of the existing residents, and only catering to tourism
  • Carla Redix is baffled that New York City housing has lottery to view housing, why do we have to be put in a lottery to get housings 
  • Juliet cannot speak to the rules on income minimums, she reaffirms that the vouchers should not be dependent on income minimums, she does not have jurisdiction over federal regulations
  • Ted: the lottery is meant to be non discriminatory, the answer is more affordable housing

Question: John Benfatto, dropping center / Living Room / Bronxworks near Riverdale, referrals are from DHS, is having trouble getting clients to take COVID vaccinations, can anyone help?

John’s shelter has not been open since March 2019, he’s concern about opening, social distances, he’s looking for someone to administer and do educational outreach for his clients.

John got the Hebrew Institute to start a shelter, and does not know the status of his opening or current use.

AOB

  • Public bathrooms (Portable bathroom for Hotels plazas)
  • Speaker Suggestions: All suggestions are welcomed
  • New Members: Thank you for joining, feel free to tell us about your needs or schedule a presentation, and connect with anyone within this network
  • Next Meeting: 9:30 am, Tuesday, June 1, 2021 (The first Tuesday of every month) 

ADDENDUM A: DEFINING HOUSING

DEFINING HOUSING

When advocating for housing rights with a focus on community, the below items are considered:

  • Shelters: Truly transitional; although purposeful, achieving our housing and community goals will eliminate or lessen the need
  • Medical Respite Beds: Health care unit for longer stay and transitioning to housing (see Addendum B: Medical Respite Bed Advocacy Plan)
  • SROs: Single Room Occupancy
  • Supportive: Accessorized with social services
  • Housing First: Unconditional placement
  • Really Affordable: Rentals below the medium wage of 55,000 and or below 30% of income (input)
  • Affordable: The market rate rentals currently available to people above the medium wage up to 88,000 with a 30% of income ask or higher (see Addendum x)
  • Option and Incentives for Home Owner

ADDENDUM B: POLICY MEETING RECAP May 4, 2021

DAY/DATE: Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Time: 8:30AM-9:30AM

Where: Zoom

The policy committee has decided to navigate a course through the voucher system to secure housing. Charisma’s efforts along with experience voucher users and professionals will give us an educational tool for others to follow.

VOUCHERS

City FHEPS: Shannon discussed the City FHEPS Shopping Letter, AKA Voucher

  • The city pays up to 1265.00 per month for a single individual, 800 for a room, 1,047.00 SRO
  • Incentives for landlord include: 4,300 signing bonus, several month up front (4 most max)
  • Once a client become eligible they can sit with a vouchers for years: There are difficulties in finding housing for the value of the voucher; lengthy application process (lease, proof of ownership, deed, w9, inspections are lengthy and laborious and becomes a deterrent)

Question: How do you get a City for Fheps voucher?

  • You have to be in DHS shelter for 90 days, open public assistance case through HRA, and a source of income in addition to a public assistance case
  • The street homeless being a client of an outreach team qualifies a person without the income, but doesn’t eliminate the need for public assistance. 
  • The funds are paid through HRA, if you don’t qualify for benefits does not qualify voucher

Question: Who would not be approved for HRA benefits?

  • People who earn too much; the cut off for income is 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline
  • Undocumented without birth certificate, social security

SOTA:

Shannon said the onerous is on the housing specialist or the client to find an agreeable apartment for the price, and the landlord to agree to take the voucher. SOTA voucher is a one time annual payment up front. The SOTA program needs more discussion.

Section 8 Voucher: When Discussing the Section 8 Voucher, Charisma White speaks from experience.

Charisma had required her HPD Section 8 for over 10-years through her mother. This section 8 voucher is hers to keep as long as it is being used. The Section 8 voucher can be timed out. This forces people to take apartments which are badly managed and in poor condition.

During Charisma’s 10-years, she’s moved about the city having limited stability, because many of the housing choices that the voucher afforded were inadequate. The Section 8 pays more than the City FHEPS voucher; however, it still falls short from covering rent within our NYC rental market.

The difficulties in finding housing (according to Charisma):

  • When properties fall short of code, instead of enforcing the code requirements and placing the onerous upon the landlord, the city will have the voucher recipient move
    • Charisma was forced to move, burdening her with the responsibility to find and secure housing or enter the shelter system
  • HPD, 100 gold street has housing listings, but they are outdated: Vocal’s survey found the listings outdated, and many of the landlords listed have problems with renting to voucher holders
  • When you request a move, HPD will send a voucher outlining the bedroom size, and other perimeters for usage
  • Charisma have had abusive landlords, and is currently living in a building with code violations, pest infestations, electrical issues…
  • The city is supposed to inspect, but despite the inspections, many buildings will have sub par living conditions with violations, and abusive landlords
  • Charisma lived in a building which wasn’t registered for 3 years
  • Charisma has been involved and and was successful in bringing a legal defense cases against a landlord for discrimination through the Human Rights Commission
    • Since then, she’s experienced further discriminatory practices against her and with the use of her voucher with other landlords

Shannon affirms that Charisma’s experience is consistent with other voucher users.

John Mudd can attest to this as well, with several members of this group have testified.

Question: Is there a legal institution we can go to?

Shannon: SOI unit does work for the city, but the staffing is limited; tenants are without any leverage; the landlords have legal representation and funds to protect themselves. She also pointed out that we have several speaker for our Homeless and Housing meeting that will speak to this.

Charisma went to view 3 new developments in Brooklyn

  • She’s been deterred by brokers from looking at the apartments
  • The brokers assumed Charisma could not afford the rental, and made derogatory statements
  • She pushed to see the apartments through the Human Rights council
  • Any new development supposed to have 20% for voucher holders

Question: Can you ascertain how many apartment are available within the 20%

  • There is no accounting of available or rented units within the 20% apartment set asides
  • The development of the Barkley Center in Brooklyn built new apartments, mall, community center and pushed out the low income earners

Cassie (Bronx works): In my experience this 20% rule is not necessarily for voucher users;  low income is a relative term; the majority of the people we’re attempting to serve and who have vouchers are struggling, unemployed, and on social security; many people would need incomes of 90,000 and above to rent an “affordable” apartment; the 20% low income available apartments (set asides) serve the low income of 45-50,000 annually—which is closer to the median wage earner. These set asides do not serve the marginalized, but rather gentrifies and runs people out of their communities 

  • “Low income vouchers” is the language that needs to be implemented into the laws and policy; because they can say 45,000 is low income in comparison to the 90,000 and upwards needed 
  • It’s legal, racist, and does not serve people or communities 
  • These apartment buildings, with the 20% set asides, need to accept vouchers for the value of the vouchers

Charisma, City employee’s starting wage is less then 45,000

  • Cassie: Section 8 is known to have thorough inspections, ex. missing outlet cover will fail because of a missing outlet cover
  • Cassie: Huge delays with payment, months at times, and landlords will pull the plug on a deal to rent an apartment
  • Charisma, the agencies’s personnel needs to help people to navigate this system (to gain and keep an apartment)

Concluding our conversation on our voucher discussion:

Cassie commented: Systematic racism and investment to keep people poor are built into the subsidy program: People who receive social security, SSI, will lose their income if you have more than 2,000 in assets. Anyone who is with severe mental health issue, truly in need of SSI, would not be able to navigate the system without immense support. It can be quite confusing with anyone having all their faculties. The city has a huge funding deficit. If everyone were receiving their financial support, PA(?), housing voucher, SSI, reimburse and what is owed, this city would be bankrupt. Nor do we have enough true low income housing. supportive housing, supportive housing for high needs, or services. To address the issues we need to start speaking the truth, and advocating for additional housing [and building up our reservoir of trained staff with enough supportive services].

Nancy: How do we work to bring groups together for advocacy. How do we combine efforts?

How do we move forward to map our voucher pathway, and develop our workshop and teaching tool?

Steps suggested:

Review minutes

Document the voucher use and where it can be applied 

Map the support and services that are available

ADDENDUM C: SPEAKER BIOS 

Kevin Farley is the current Director of the DSS’s Fair Housing Litigation Unit.  The Fair Housing Litigation intervenes on behalf individuals experiencing voucher discrimination to secure housing opportunities, performs community outreach educating New Yorkers about voucher discrimination, and files cases in New York Supreme Court based on a pattern or practice of housing discrimination. 

Kevin Farley will be discuss the Source of Income Discrimination unit on May 4, 2021

Frankel, Dustin (CCHR) and Critsimilios, Juliet (CCHR) will be our special guests from The NYC Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) and the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) are charged with protecting and providing fair housing in the City of New York.

CCHR’s Source of Income Discrimination page: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/cchr/law/source-of-income.page 

CCHR’s SOI fact sheet (available on the website in other languages besides English as well): https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/cchr/downloads/pdf/materials/SourceOfIncomeFactSheet.pdf

CCHR’s SOI FAQs for Tenant’s: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/cchr/downloads/pdf/materials/FairHouse_FAQs-Tenant-English.pdf 

CCHR’s Fair Housing campaign: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/cchr/media/fair-housing-campaign.page#brochure