Governor Advances Bill to Outlaw Discrimination Against Tenants Who Pay Rent Using Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, Veterans Benefits, or Other Non-Wage Income Sources
Legislation Will End Backdoor Discrimination Tactics That Have Targeted Minorities, as well as Domestic Violence Survivors, Female-Headed Households, Veterans, the Elderly, and Individuals with Disabilities
Announcement Follows Two Complaints Filed by the State Alleging Discrimination By Housing Providers in Queens
Actions Taken as New York State Celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced actions that continue New York State’s leadership in enforcing the Fair Housing Act, which was signed 50 years ago and outlaws housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability. The Governor is advancing a bill to outlaw housing discrimination based on the lawful source of a person’s income, which too often is used by landlords as a proxy to discriminate against potential tenants who are single mothers, survivors of domestic violence, veterans, minorities, elderly or individuals with disabilities. He also announced the filing of two complaints by the State Division of Human Rights against housing providers in Queens alleging that they discriminated against tenants based on their sex, familial status, and national origin. The Governor announced these actions as the state today celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Act, passed just seven days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and its later amendments outlawed housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability. New York celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act today with a full day conference in New York City, examining how far the nation and state have come since its passage, and how far they have to go.
“Discrimination in any form will not be tolerated, and as New Yorkers continue to be turned away from safe, affordable housing, this administration is taking decisive action to ensure all residents have access to the homes they deserve,” Governor Cuomo said. “New York is putting an end to the immoral and illegal behavior of landlords who have for too long discriminated against residents across this state. By upholding the Fair Housing Act of 1968, we are showing the nation and the world what it means to protect basic human rights and how these efforts will help build a better, stronger New York for all.”
The Governor’s bill combats source of income discrimination and addresses the issue of landlords, in certain parts of the state where local source of income protections do not currently exist, who can reject applicants based on their source of income. Currently, these landlords are preventing lower income households with Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability, Veterans’ Benefits, and other government subsidies or non-wage income, from accessing safe and affordable housing. As a result, many low-income New York families are unable to find landlords who will accept their non-wage income and spend more time in shelters or in substandard housing and in concentrated areas of poverty.
The Governor’s bill outlawing source of income discrimination will combat discrimination on several fronts, including to:
Fight Homelessness and Expand Housing for Survivors of Domestic Violence
Access to safe, affordable housing is the number one barrier faced by survivors of domestic violence, driving more families to shelters and substandard housing. In 2016, domestic violence surpassed evictions as the main cause for families entering shelters, just one year after 12,542 adults and 12,913 children who sought shelter in a licensed domestic violence residential program were turned away, many due to overcrowding. These New Yorkers had nowhere to turn, and as more move into shelters than move out, source of income protection would be critical to ensuring families are able to leave the shelter system or relocate from substandard housing into safe, affordable and permanent housing.
Ensure Veterans Have the Dignity a Home Provides
Veterans, and specifically veterans with disabilities, are particularly vulnerable to source of income discrimination due to their reliance on government assistance. About one-fourth of the approximate 900,000 veterans living in New York State as of 2013 received non-wage income or had a disability, and more than half of New York’s veterans live outside of New York City and its suburbs. This bill would ensure protections are in place for veterans to have equal access to affordable housing.
Allow Elder New Yorkers to Age in Home and Protect Individuals with Disabilities
There are approximately 650,000 recipients of supplemental security income living in the state. Of these individuals, approximately 226,000 are over the age of 65, and approximately 39 percent of households utilizing federal rental assistance in New York include individuals who are elderly. Protecting against discrimination for individuals in receipt of social security income would allow elderly individuals to age in housing and neighborhoods of their choice, rather than in institutional settings. This will in turn lead to better health outcomes and lower medical costs. It would also enable adults with disabilities, who compose 34.5 percent of households with vouchers, to access the same housing resources as all other New Yorkers.
The proposed legislation reaffirms New York’s commitment to the values and goals of the Fair Housing Act and the New York State Human Rights Law.
Complaints Filed By the State Alleging Discrimination in Housing
Furthering the state’s commitment to combat discrimination at all levels, the Division of Human Rights has filed two complaints against housing providers in Queens accusing them of unlawful discrimination of tenants and potential tenants. In the first complaint, DHR’s Division Initiated Action Unit followed up on media reports to take action against a housing provider who allegedly posted discriminatory fliers advertising apartments and rooms for rent in Queens available to tenants who are adults only, or male only, or who have “no more than one child.” The State Human Rights Law expressly prohibits property owners and their agents from using language in any advertisement that would express a limitation or specification as to a prospective tenant’s sex or familial status.
The second complaint described a landlord trying to intimidate immigrant tenants by unlawfully posting signs in the lobby of his 55-unit apartment building, advertising a “Homeland Security Investigations Tip Line.” The building is predominantly occupied by tenants from countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Bangladesh. The bogus sign encouraged individuals to call United States Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to report “suspicious criminal activity” via the tip line. Immigration was explicitly included as a reportable “criminal activity” that justifies calling the tip line, along with violent crimes like terrorism, drug smuggling, gang activity and child abuse. The complaint accuses the landlord of efforts to further intimidate and retaliate against tenant witnesses who cooperated with DHR’s probe. The landlord demanded of DHR investigators the names of tenants who were interviewed. On several other occasions the landlord also threatened tenants, telling them ICE agents were on the premises and were “coming to round up tenants.”
The State Division of Human Rights is empowered by law to investigate and prosecute systematic patterns of discrimination. These efforts protect New Yorkers and ensure equal opportunity to participate fully in the economic, cultural and intellectual life of the state.
State’s Ongoing Efforts to Support Fair Housing Principles
The Governor is committed to providing all New Yorkers with access to safe, affordable housing that pursues the goals of the Fair Housing Act is reflected in the state’s unprecedented $20 billion, five-year Housing Plan. The plan makes housing accessible and combats homelessness by building and preserving 112,000 units of affordable housing, including 6,000 units of supportive housing – enough to house every resident of the City of Buffalo. Since January 2016 when the first Supportive Housing funds were made available under the Governor’s Housing Plan, the state has financed over 2500 units of permanent supportive housing throughout New York for people with disabilities or adverse life circumstances. The housing plan continues to build on the more than 77,000 affordable multifamily homes created or preserved since 2011, which is more than enough to house every resident of the City of Syracuse.
The initiatives announced today also build on the Governor’s achievements, including enactment in 2011 the greatest expansion of rent regulations in 40 years; the 2012 allocation of $880 million to supportive housing initiatives as part of the Medicaid Redesign; and the creation of the Tenant Protection Unit that since 2012 has brought more than 67,000 apartments back to the regulated system.
In addition, earlier this year the Governor enforced the right to safe and clean housing for the 400,000 New York City Housing Authority tenants living in unhealthy and sometimes dangerous conditions. The Governor fought hard for the State Budget to include an additional $250 million for NYCHA, increasing the state’s investment under his watch to $550 million, the highest ever. He declared a state of emergency to expedite necessary repairs, and address the lead paint and mold crisis. He also pushed through a law allowing design-build to be applied to NYCHA construction projects, speeding the contracting process while still adhering to MWBE participation requirements.
New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said, “In New York State, we are lucky to have a Governor who has spent his life upholding and advancing the values of the Fair Housing Act. With the advancement of a bill to outlaw source of income discrimination, Governor Cuomo is showing how under his leadership we continue to strive to achieve the dream of equality envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
New York State Division of Human Rights Commissioner Helen Diane Foster said, “Our state’s Fair Housing protections predate and offer more protections than those of the federal government. Governor Cuomo’s proposed legislation will blaze more trails and open more doors to equal housing opportunities for all New Yorkers.”
Lindsay Miller, Executive Director for the New York Association on Independent Living said, “People with disabilities often live on fixed incomes and rely on housing subsidies in order to pay their rent and live independently in the community, yet far too often, they are denied housing they can afford solely due to their source of income. This can make it almost impossible for people with disabilities to locate affordable, accessible housing. Banning discrimination based on a tenant’s lawful source of income will be a significant achievement towards addressing the housing crisis for people with disabilities in New York.”
Judith Goldiner, Attorney in Charge at The Legal Aid Society said, “At a time when we are facing a statewide rent crisis, it is essential that we enable tenants to move into apartments that they can afford. Unfortunately, because of pernicious discrimination, many tenants are not able to do so. We call on the State Senate to pass this critical legislation which will ban source of income discrimination state wide and open doors for our clients.”
Foreign-born tenants in New York seeking information or assistance on discrimination may visit the Governor’s Immigrant Resource Guide, which outlines programs and initiatives designed to support immigrants and their families. In conjunction with the guide, Homes and Community Renewal and the Division of Human Rights have developed an Immigration and Fair Housing Fact Sheet that addresses “Frequently Asked Questions” related to immigration status, housing discrimination, and tenant harassment.
The New York State Division of Human Rights is the agency in charge of enforcing the Human Rights law, which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, and other jurisdictions, based on age, race, creed, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, military status, and other protected classes. For more information about the Human Rights Law and the work of the agency, please visit the Division’s website at www.dhr.ny.gov.