A shrinking city unit focused on voucher discrimination can’t do much good for would-be renters, as it has reportedly been sapped of all staff members.
The last employee of the New York City Human Rights Commission’s (CCHR) Source of Income Unit resigned at the beginning of the month, City Limits reported. The departed attorney hasn’t been replaced, leaving the unit without a single staffer.
The anti-discrimination unit has slowly been bleeding out. Three years ago, there were six employees in the unit, but that dropped to only three last year, according to City Limits. By last month, there was only one staffer left, despite a spending plan designed to add 10 people to the unit’s dwindling headcount this year.
The SOI unit plays a vital role in enforcing the effectiveness of housing vouchers. The office records complaints, intervenes and sometimes files lawsuits when prospective renters are discriminated against due to a government subsidy, such as a Section 8 or CityFHEPS voucher. Without the unit in place, landlords and brokers may have an easier time discriminating on the basis of subsidies.
According to CCHR reports, discrimination on the basis of government subsidies is the most common form of illegal housing bias in the city.
CCHR Deputy Commissioner JoAnn Kamuf Ward has said the agency will still intervene in cases of voucher discrimination. According to City Limits, some staffers and attorneys in other units of the agency had already started taking on cases as the SOI unit faded.
The unit’s decline comes as complaints have ticked up from previous years. The unit filed 27 complaints on behalf of tenants in fiscal year 2020 and 28 in fiscal year 2021. From this past July through March, the unit has filed 29 complaints, according to City Limits.
Nonprofits are stepping up as the government loses resources to combat voucher discrimination. The Housing Rights Initiative and the Fair Housing Justice Center are among those who have sued major companies like the LeFrak Organization, Corcoran Group and Compass for alleged voucher discrimination.
Compass recently settled a lawsuit from the watchdog group. The brokerage promised bigger commissions to agents for Section 8 leases and agreed to additional training for brokerson the voucher programs.
[City Limits] — Holden Walter-Warner