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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Federal Housing Vouchers Opening Up Again for NYers Who Need Help with Rent

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By: Hadassa Kalatizadeh

A federal program is reopening to applicants after 15 years, which may finally bring additional aid to New Yorkers struggling to pay rent.

As reported by the NY Times, the highly-sought-after federally funded section 8 housing vouchers is reopening its wait list, after having been shuttered at the end of 2009 with over 128,000 families on que. On Monday, the New York City Housing Authority reopened its waiting list, which now has a more workable-sized waitlist of 3,700 households. The choice housing vouchers help over five million people across the country, but is perhaps most needed and most expansive in NYC. Nearly 250,000 lower-income New Yorkers rent apartments on the private market using the vouchers.

The program allows the people to spend a maximum of 30 percent of their income on rent while the federal government picks up the rest of the tab. The vouchers can be a lifeline for lower-income families, but not only is there a long waitlist to get a voucher, qualifying apartments are also getting harder and harder to find. “Just finding housing in New York, even when you have this assistance, is difficult,” said Matthew Murphy, executive director of the New York University Furman Center. “On top of that, we know that voucher holders face discrimination.”

In 2018, over 70% of families with children could find an apartment to rent with their voucher within a year, as per an analysis by the Furman Center. In 2022, that percentage dropped to 58%. The drop reflects the NYC housing shortage, as well as landlords’ reluctance to rent to people with vouchers, the Furman Center analysis noted. The analysis found that in 2022, it took households with children over 160 days to find an apartment that they could use their voucher with. In the city, just finding an apartment that qualifies is a major task. “I had to treat it as a full-time job,” said Daniris Espinal, 38, who lives with two daughters, and who was given a voucher in 2021 but took two years to find a qualifying apartment.

Per the Times, a NYC survey showed that the overall vacancy rate for rentals was just 1.4% in 2023— the lowest level in over 50 years. More affordably priced apartments had an even lower rate of vacancy.

Aside from the federal section 8 program, NYC also issues its own vouchers through a similar program named CityFHEPS. Apartments that qualify for vouchers need to fall into certain guidelines, with the rent usually maxing out at about $3,000 for a two-bedroom apartment for a family of four.

NYCHA has a limited number of vouchers available. People on the waiting list can get a voucher when people who already have them become ineligible, by getting a higher-paying job, for example. Applications to join the wait list will be open until June 9.

NYCHA officials said they are bracing for a high number of applicants— possibly more than 500,000 applications. They hope to select 200,000 eligible households to add to the waiting list. In August, they are slated to begin giving out vouchers at a rate of about 1,000 households per month, the NY Times reported.

Jay Martin, the executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, a landlord group, expressed enthusiasm that the waiting list is reopening, but noted the housing shortage.

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