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Proposed ‘inclusive landlords list’ seeks to fight discrimination against voucher holders

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Those who receive rental subsidies from the city would benefit from this program

Max Touhey

In 2014, the city introduced the Living in Communities (LINC) subsidy program, which provides rental vouchers to New Yorkers living in homeless or domestic violence shelters. The LINC program is intended to help homeless families and other New Yorkers leave the shelter system and find stable housing by providing subsidies for a specific period of time.

But finding that housing has proven challenging for those who qualify for the subsidies; in 2015, DNAInfo reported that of the 15,921 vouchers issued to eligible New Yorkers, only 3,220 were used. While there are a bevy of reasons why this might be the case, one glaring problem is that landlords often won’t accept LINC vouchers, whether because of a lack of understanding on how the program works, or simply because they don’t want to—which is illegal per NYC housing law.

That same year, Comptroller Scott Stringer noted in a letter to the New York City Commission on Human Rights that it has been “a challenge” to find landlords willing to accept the vouchers, and that “discrimination against voucher holders is often brazen,” with “NO VOUCHERS” language prominent in some listings.

That was three years ago, and according to City Council member Ritchie Torres, things haven’t improved much since. But this week, he’ll introduce legislation in the City Council that he hopes will change that: Torres wants the city to create an “inclusive landlords list” as a tool for those seeking housing through the LINC program.

The idea is that landlords who haven’t engaged in discriminatory practices, haven’t refused to accept vouchers in the past, and also have a good record when it comes to maintaining their apartments would self-report to the agencies who oversee the program (Department of Homeless Services and the Human Resources Administration), which would then provide a list of these good landlords to qualifying renters.

The bill proposed by Torres would also require the relevant agencies (including the Department of Housing Preservation and Development) to annually review the landlords on the list to ensure they’re still following the requirements.

“The practice of throwing a rental voucher at a family and expecting the family to find housing on its own without concrete guidance seems counterproductive,” Torres said in a statement to Curbed. “There are tenants who have to wait months before finding the right landlord. If a tenant had a list of inclusive landlords from the outset, it would dramatically smooth the path to permanent housing.”

As for next steps, the bill will be introduced this week, and will then go through a public comment process; if it’s adopted, Torres expects it to be passed into law within a year.