Falling rents double city’s supply of voucher-accessible apartments

Eligible units are still outnumbered by Section 8 recipients

The change was driven by record rent drops and an increase in available apartments. (iStock)
The change was driven by record rent drops and an increase in available apartments. (iStock)

Thanks to the pandemic, rental-voucher holders seeking a better apartment might actually get one.

The amount of voucher-accessible housing in New York City has more than doubled, according to an analysis by StreetEasy.

From July to December, over 40,000 more units had rents low enough for tenants to use Section 8 vouchers than during the second half of 2019. That’s an increase of 142 percent.

The change was driven by record rent drops and an increase in available apartments.

Though the Bronx has the most Section 8 voucher use of any borough, Manhattan — which has the least — saw the largest uptick in eligible units. Manhattan rents dropped by more than 16 percent year-over-year. The other boroughs didn’t come close.

The falling rents mean holders of the federal vouchers have more opportunity to live in convenient locations or in units with more space and amenities.

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But voucher holders still face challenges.

For one, they continue to outnumber the supply of available apartments. Some 85,982 vouchers are in use in New York City, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but only 71,934 eligible units were listed on StreetEasy in the second half of 2020.

And according to UrbanDigs, landlords are warehousing more than half of Manhattan apartments rather than accept a low initial rent that they will be stuck with for years, Patch reported.

Another problem is the eligibility formula. The maximum rent levels allowed by many voucher programs is low compared to market-rate rents in New York City, the report states. That’s because the payment standards are based on homes across the metropolitan area, including lower-priced areas of Long Island, New Jersey and the Hudson Valley.

If the standard were based only on New York City, 18,548 more units would be available, more than one for every voucher holder, StreetEasy suggests.

Eligible apartments, however, are often denied to voucher holders by landlords who want higher-earning tenants or don’t want to deal with the bureaucracy, inspections and delays that Section 8 rentals involve.

A lawsuit filed last month by watchdog group Housing Rights Initiative accused 88 landlords and brokerages of income discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders.

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