NYC Dems demand housing authority stop Section 8 terminations

Tenants complain that computer glitches are costing them rent vouchers

From left: Rep. Jerrold Nadler and NYCHA head John Rhea

[Updated at 6:52 p.m. with comment from NYCHA]
Rep. Jerrold Nadler and his nine fellow New York Democrats are urging the New York City Housing Authority to halt the termination of Section 8 housing vouchers, in the wake of complaints and two lawsuits blaming the agency’s new computer system for mistakenly dropping tenants from the program.

NYCHA installed a $36 million computer system in February that, among other things, automated the annual recertification process for tenants receiving rent subsidies under the federal program. The agency also implemented a customer service line that replaced dedicated caseworkers.

Tenants have complained that the changes, intended to modernize the process, have instead led to wrongful terminations. As The Real Deal previously reported, 33 of them sued NYCHA late last month seeking compensation and changes to the system.

In a letter yesterday, the representatives called on NYCHA Chairman John Rhea to place an immediate moratorium on terminations for the city’s 99,000 Section 8 recipients while reviewing how it administers the program, as well as restore subsidies to participants who may have been dropped in error.

“Families have been cut from the program and are now at risk of eviction through no fault of their own,” the letter said. “It is unacceptable that New Yorkers most in need of assistance have been able to fall through the cracks.”

The representatives, who used language from a previous story in The Real Deal, cited complaints from constituents that NYCHA had failed to send or process the annual recertification paperwork needed to renew subsidies, notify participants of hearings to challenge program terminations, or adjust tenant contributions after changes in family income.

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In a statement, NYCHA said it plans to work with landlords and tenants to resolve any issues.

“With the implementation of any large-scale business process redesign and technology deployment, there is an adjustment period of several months, especially with a program as dynamic as Section 8 where new information is constantly being processed.”

NYCHA said the system — the NYCHA Improving the Customer Experience, or NICE, program — enables a more rigorous document tracking process and is intended to comply with federal regulations. In the past, NYCHA had processed applications and annual reviews manually.

The agency is reportedly facing a $200 million budget shortfall that could lead to layoffs for 3,000 service workers.

Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel, Carolyn Maloney, Gary Ackerman, Eliot Engel, Carolyn McCarthy, Edolphus Towns, Yvette Clarke, Gregory Meeks and Jose Serrano also signed the letter.

The two federal lawsuits, filed in Manhattan and Brooklyn, claimed that NYCHA’s new computer and phone systems cost Section 8 tenants their housing vouchers, causing them to pay additional rent and endure lengthy housing court proceedings. As of the filing of the suits, none of the tenants had been evicted, although some were behind on rent and were facing court proceedings for nonpayment.

At the time, NYCHA declined to comment. The agency is scheduled to file a response in court Dec. 16.

A spokesperson for Nadler did not immediately respond to a request for comment.