2007-11-02 / Editorial/Opinion

New Resistance To Federal Rent Subsidy Program


The federally funded Section 8 housing program has long been the mainstay in insuring that the working poor have decent housing. After receiving vouchers from the federal government, Section 8 tenants pay approximately 30 percent of their income towards rent, with the vouchers covering the remainder. Eligible households are those earning no more than 50 percent of the city's median income; no more than about $35,000 a year for a family of four. The rent limits for voucher holders seeking apartments in New York City are $1,069 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,556 for a four-bedroom apartment. There are problems with the program, however, and housing experts say those problems are growing as more and more apartment owners refuse to take Section 8 vouchers from prospective renters. In fact, those experts say, the refusal to take the vouchers has become so widespread that many voucher holders wait a year or more to find a landlord who will take them. Proponents of the program say that the refusal to take the vouchers is racially and socially motivated; that the refusal to take the vouchers discriminates against single mothers and black and Hispanic tenants. Often, however, we get calls from local residents, particularly in Rockaway Beach and Rockaway Park, who complain that Section 8 tenants often destabilize their neighborhoods, bringing with them drugs, alcohol and gang activity. We do not know if this is true, but the complaints have been coming on a regular basis and we believe that, in this case, the perception is as important as the reality. There is a tipping point. When Section 8 becomes prevalent in the neighborhood, residents often look to move elsewhere. That is a fact of life that we cannot ignore. City Councilman Bill De Blasio, a Brooklyn Democrat, has proposed a bill that would make it a crime to turn down a prospective tenant because that tenant has a Section 8 voucher. Landlord groups have joined many civic groups in fighting the proposed law. We do not believe that accepting a Section 8 voucher should be mandatory. We do not know what impact such a law would have on Rockaway, because there is so much new apartment stock on the peninsula. We do know, however, that Rockaway already has its share of low-income, subsidized residents. We look to middle-class residents, who have some spending power and some political clout, to fuel the peninsula's revitalization. We do not need Rockaway to become the Section 8 haven for the city, and we fear that De Blasio's bill, if passed, would point us in that direction.

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