Housing in the Big Apple is notoriously expensive. It would’ve been more so if not for Section 8, otherwise known as the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program. Thanks to section 8 law, New York City housing has been more affordable for almost a century.
The government program enables low-income residents to receive rent subsidies for market-rate housing. Interestingly, there are only 88,000 vouchers in a city with over 5 million renters. That translates to a huge gap between demand and supply. Some brokers and property owners out there are unsure about these vouchers, and reject them outright. Others simply have questions about the whole thing. Have questions about housing choice vouchers and how they work? This guide will put to bed any questions you may have as a property owner and help you build a good tenant-property manager relationship.
Section 8, otherwise known as the Housing Choice Voucher program, assists very low-income families in paying for ‘decent, safe and sanitary housing’. The type of housing can vary from single-family homes to townhouses and apartments. An Urban Institute report published in August 2018 showed property managers discriminate against families with housing vouchers, and are unwilling to participate. For the program to work out, a family that gets a housing voucher needs to find a house owner who is willing to take part in the program.
Any family with low or very low income based on the annual gross income, and who requires decent, safe, and sanitary housing qualifies for the Housing Choice Voucher Program.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sets the standards for the use of vouchers. In the Big Apple, three agencies - NYCHA, HPD, and NYSHCR- oversee the process.
By law, low-income households who hold the voucher need to pay 30% of the family’s adjusted monthly income. The government’s rent subsidy covers the rest of the payment. Even if income decreases during the period of tenancy, the family can request a review to reflect their new earning. This means that as a property owner, you don’t have to worry about your rent failing.
Given that there are limited vouchers available, sometimes, the applications are even closed. This is to ensure that early applicants can get the vouchers. However, exemptions can be made for emergency referrals in special cases like abuse, domestic violence, etc.
The Emergency Housing Voucher works in a similar way to the Housing choice voucher program. As a result of the housing crisis that followed the pandemic, the federal government enacted the American Rescue Act to assist the homeless and those at risk of homelessness. One of those measures put in place In NYC is the Emergency Housing Voucher (EHV).
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) oversee the voucher distribution in NYC and use Section 8 payment standards. A total of 7,788 EHV vouchers have been awarded through the NYCHA and the HPD. Any NYC resident who qualifies will be screened initially by a caseworker and then referred to NYCHA or HPD if they are eligible.
Landlords and property owners benefit quite a lot by participating in the EHV program. Among other things, those who take part in the EHV voucher program are assured that the government will pay its part of the rent subsidy on time. Additionally, by working with the Home Support Unit (HSU), you have a chance to earn a 15% brokers fee and three months of subsidy payments upfront asides from the regular first month’s rent.
The section 8 law mandates that all property owners must not discriminate against any tenant based on their legal income source, including alimony, child support, housing vouchers, etc.
It has been illegal to discriminate by housing in NYC since 2008. The section 8 law was further expanded in February 2021 to provide more coverage regardless of the number of units to be rented. So if you're screening rental applications, you don't need to rule out someone because of a low income.
The NYCGHR will investigate any property owner or broker who refuses to accept vouchers for payment.
Unfortunately, in reality, the only building types where there is no income discrimination are room rentals for individuals of the same sex and owner-occupied multi-unit homes. Both state and city law cover these.
The rent subsidy falls between 60 and 70% of the adjusted monthly income of the family. Once the renter pays the minimum 30% (or 40% maximum) directly to the property owner, the voucher payment from the government takes care of the rent subsidy.
The amount spent on this project changes annually to reflect payment standards and exception payment standards, which are updated within the same time frame.
Okay! So now you’ve decided to participate in the housing choice voucher program or the EHV. What’s next? As a broker or owner, you’ll need to take the following steps if you’re planning to lease an apartment to a voucher-holding tenant.
These are three seemingly easy steps, but the process can still get confusing! That’s why the Home Support Unit (HSU) of the mayor’s office is there to support owners to complete the process. Once you complete the web form, an HSU staff will reach out to walk you through the process.
The tenant still has a responsibility to pay 30-40% of the rent. However, there are enough incentives to ensure that any voucher holder doesn’t default on payments. Apart from the housing choice voucher program, there are additional programs to assist those who may face unprecedented challenges that affect their finances further. Knowing this, you can rest assured that the PHA will also pay up its quota of the rent as and when it's due.
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