Saturday, May 21, 2016

Blind Central New York Tenant Forced To Forfeit Long-Awaited For Housing Subsidy Voucher Because She Couldn't Find Anywhere To Use It After Being Rejected By Multiple Landlords Refusing To Accept Section 8 Renters

In Syracuse, New York, The Post-Standard reports:
  • Monica Johnson is an ideal tenant by most standards. She's neat. She doesn't smoke. She has no pets. She's quiet and lives alone.

    Still, more than half of the dozens of landlords she called during a recent apartment hunt refused to rent to her. That's because Johnson was looking for a place that would accept her Section 8 housing voucher.

    Johnson was eventually forced to forfeit that federally funded voucher -- for which she'd waited three years -- because, after 120 days, she couldn't find anywhere to use it.

    'I'm not a bad tenant'

    Johnson is blind. She lost her sight at 29 after a diabetic attack that nearly killed her. It took her several years to regain the strength to walk. Today, at 43, she makes her living as a motivational speaker, preaching inspiration at corporate events and schools. She makes less than $23,000, making her eligible for federal housing assistance.

    Under New York State law, property owners can't legally discriminate against Johnson because she is blind. But they can refuse to rent to her based on the assistance she receives from the government.(1)

    "I need financial help, but I'm not a bad tenant or a messy tenant," Johnson said. "I'm not bringing fleas or bedbugs. I'm not lazy. You could eat off my floors."
    Johnson applied for Section 8 in 2012 and received approval for a voucher last summer. Prior to that, she had been living in a facility that cost $1,000 per month and was struggling to afford it.

    Section 8 vouchers are transferable financial aid tickets from the government that are redeemable for a portion of a recipient's rent. Once approved, a recipient has 60 days to find housing using the voucher. After 60 days, that person can apply for two 30-day extensions -- a total of 120 days to find housing.

    In order to receive the funding, Johnson first had to attend several classes that outlined the federal housing program's rules. For example, Section 8 doesn't allow tenants registered as sex offenders or those arrested for selling methamphetamine. The government can revoke vouchers from tenants arrested for criminal activity.

    Under the terms of the voucher, Johnson could spend up to $700 per month on rent and utilities. She would pay a portion of that and the federal government would cover the rest.

    Johnson said she called to inquire about more than 30 apartments. At least half told her they did not accept Section 8 vouchers. Many that did, she said, were located in areas where she, as a blind woman, didn't feel safe.

    "I need a secure building," she said. "If someone broke into my house I wouldn't even know it until I stepped on the broken glass."
For more, see Landlords refuse to rent to blind woman because she gets Section 8.
(1) While there may be no statewide law in New York prohibiting housing discrimination based on a tenant's source of income (including public assistance, pensions, annuities and government rent subsidies such as Section 8), some municipalities in the state have passed local ordinances which do prohibit such discrimination.

See this August 4, 2008 New York Attorney General press release, Attorney General Stops Buffalo Apartment Complex Owner From Discriminating Against People Receiving Financial Housing Assistance (Undercover investigation reveals Section 8 recipients denied housing), which identifies New York City, Buffalo, Nassau County, Hamburg, and West Seneca as a few municipalities in New York State that have passed such laws.