[Updated at 5:30 p.m.] Thirty-three Section 8 recipients sued the New York City Housing Authority Monday, blaming the agency’s new computer and phone systems for the loss of their housing vouchers, which has allegedly caused them to pay additional rent and endure lengthy housing court proceedings.
The two federal lawsuits, filed in Manhattan and Brooklyn, claim NYCHA failed to send or process the annual paperwork needed to renew subsidies, notify participants of hearings to challenge program terminations, or adjust tenant contributions after changes in family income.
A representative for NYCHA declined to comment on pending litigation.
The plaintiffs trace the problem to the $36 million computer system the agency installed in February. The database was intended to modernize the Section 8 program, but backlogs have already cost some people their apartments, the New York Daily News reported in April.
NYCHA also implemented a centralized phone system to address tenant concerns, instead of relying on housing assistants who worked with tenants one-on-one, according to the suits.
“Although we have continually asked NYCHA to fix these problems, NYCHA has refused,” said Robert Desir, a staff attorney at Legal Aid Society, which is representing the plaintiffs along with Legal Services NYC.
The agency is reportedly facing a $200 million budget shortfall that could lead to layoffs for 3,000 service workers.
Though none of the plaintiffs have been evicted yet, some have not paid their rent since as far back as January, and others are being sued for nonpayment of rent, among them individuals who live at 225 West 232 Street in the Bronx and 2413 Clarendon Road in Brooklyn, according to the suits.
Benvenida Bencosme, a resident of 3450 Gates Place in the Bronx, said she contacted NYCHA in February to have her rent lowered, but was told the agency could not address her complaint because its database was under construction.
“I am about to become homeless,” she said.
The remaining plaintiffs also live in Brooklyn and the Bronx. One elderly couple lives in Manhattan, at 56 Bennett Avenue, and claims they did not receive a renewal package until two months after getting a termination notice.
In a statement, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn called the allegations “very troubling”, and urged NYCHA to put all subsidy terminations on hold until a solution could be found.
“New technology systems can improve efficiency, but if not managed correctly, can harm the very people they are meant to serve,” Quinn said.
The suits also take aim at NYCHA’s notice, deadline and rent calculation policies, as well as policies that can prevent rent adjustments until a family’s share of rent reaches 40 percent of their income.
The plaintiffs have asked the court to order NYCHA to stop the terminations and revamp its annual recertification procedures, as well as reinstate their benefits and reimburse them for past losses.
New York is home to more than 99,000 recipients of federal Section 8 housing subsidies, according to the suits.