Streams

Evictions Begin after City Housing Voucher Ends

Friday, March 09, 2012

The loss of a city housing voucher has left many poor tenants scrambling to keep a roof over their heads.

Last month, about 8,000 households were notified that their housing assistance had come to an end. All of them had been homeless and were relying on the rental assistance to rent private apartments. Without the help many have been unable to pay their full rent, leaving landlords with the unpleasant task of evicting tenants some of whom are elderly, frail and sick. 

Landlords Feel the Pinch

Linda Sharp has owned a 16-unit brick building in Bushwick, Brooklyn, for nearly two decades and many of her tenants were paying their rent with the city sponsored, Advantage housing voucher. “They abandoned these people — 2/3 of the building. They’re just left for me to deal with. And my taxes are $30,000 a year. The oil bill has gone sky high and no money is coming in,” Sharp said.

The feisty, white-haired landlords says she’s about to be three months behind on her mortgage, which is just over $8,000 a month.  She’s been e-mailing politicians, calling city agencies, expressing her frustration and begging for help. “I’m just tired…of you know believing that it takes a village,” she said. “It’s just talk. Where’s the rest of the village?”

Sharp said she had started evictions, but some tenants are harder to kick out than others like 54-yearold James Lee Walker, who has suffered through four strokes.  

Tenants Teetering on the Edge of Homelessness

The wobbly, military veteran walks with a cane and injects himself with insulin for his diabetes. He also admits to a drinking problem, explaining he had his first drink when he was six years old.  

Walker said having a roof over his head had made a difference. He showed a stack of bills he had just paid. He was seeing a doctor regularly and would soon be getting a home health aid.

He receives just under $800 a month in disability and social security payments. His rent is $962 a month.

Being evicted was something he didn’t want to talk about, but at the same time, he seemed resigned to it.

“That’s life. That’s what it is now. [Sharp] says she’s not going to do it. She’s going to work so and so, but the woman is a business woman also and I respect her for her having this whole place. I mean you can’t live here free,” Walker said.  

(Photo: Walker sits in his Brooklyn apartment. Cindy Rodriguez/WNYC)

The city says about 20 percent of the 8,000 households who lost their housing subsidy fall into the old or disabled category and rely solely on a fixed-income like Walker.

The Fraying Safety Net

Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond said the city started warning households a year ago that they should prepare to lose their subsidies early. “We’ve been in touch via mail with everyone who is a recipient and to try to let people know they need to start planning for the day when the program ended, and again we are here now, and for a lot of people that may mean looking at other options,” Diamond said. Other options, such as moving in with other family members.

He blames the state for the current problem, saying the state cut its funding first, leaving the city unable to foot the bill alone. The state counters it cut the funding mostly to close a budget deficit.

The state, however, also questioned whether the voucher was working. The program has been controversial since it began, with critics saying two years of rental assistance isn’t long enough for homeless households to get back on their feet.

Walker would not have been able to handle his rent after two years. He and others on a fixed-income had been told they would be transitioned into long-term, federally-funded section 8 vouchers. But it never happened. The sickly, 54-year-old man now has few options.

Linda Sharp sent Walker a notice of eviction this week.

Walker says ending up homeless again will take an emotional toll.  “Of course it would make me get totally intoxicated, honestly.” he said.

A city homeless prevention program is looking to see if Walker could qualify for any veteran’s housing.  

Meanwhile, Legal Aid had sued the city to keep rental payments going for all 8,000 households, but they lost the case. An appeal is still pending.     

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Comments [11]

@Charvak - Moving people to "cheaper" areas is easier said than done.

First, most areas in the country outside of NYC require a car. Most people in NYC either don't have a drivers license or a car. Therefore these areas are out of reach for those that rely on public transportation.

Second, don't think that areas outside of NYC are inexpensive. Rising costs are happening everywhere. The number of areas where you can live on $800 a month is rapidly declining. Also, again, because you need a car in most parts of the US, you have to pay for rising costs of gas, auto insurance and car maintenance. Owning a car is a major expense so these low income people are actually at a cost disadvantage if they move out of the city. Public transportation in NYC costs at most $104 a month; owning a car in the suburbs will run you AT LEAST $300 a month.

Aug. 15 2012 11:05 AM
paul dalnoky

For your old age? I think that would be now!

Jul. 15 2012 02:59 PM
Charvak Karpe from Cambridge, MA

Does Mr. Walker's $800/month in social security and disability require him to live in the most expensive city in America? An example of someone who has a low-wage job in NYC might better illustrate the point of the article. Mr. Walker doesn't have to be homeless. He could also move to a place where rent is under $200/month and have money left over for living expenses. Or is leaving NYC worse than being homeless, to a New Yorker?

Jul. 11 2012 05:07 PM
Tom from New York

and meanwhile multi-billionares like Warren buffet are paying taxes at a lower percentage rate than their secretaries!

Mar. 20 2012 02:45 PM
Jade118 from Queens NY

Please sign my petition on change.org Spread the word!Every signature counts!

http://www.change.org/petitions/mayor-michael-bloomberg-the-city-of-new-york-stop-over-8-000-families-from-becoming-homelessn

Mar. 12 2012 10:50 PM
Jade118 from Queens, NY

This is so sad! There are many people that really do need this program to provide a decent life for their family in NYC. I work my butt off, full-time and struggle to come home with a little over three hundred dollars per week. The work just isnt out there right now. You have to settle for whatever you can find. My income would barely pay my rent. Forget about bills, childcare, and the necessary expenses. Why not transition the Advantage program into Section 8 FOR PEOPLE & FAMILIES THAT ARE DOING THE RIGHT THING! There are plenty of people looking for a hand out, who dont want to work or do anything. Lets not forget about the people who just need a supplement, to help live in one of the most expensive cities in this country. I have four children, who is going to take in my family? Suggesting these families to just "move in with someone" is absurd! Hopefully we can find a solution to this. I am going to try to start a petition on Change.org

Mar. 12 2012 06:41 PM
Regina Nadelson from manhattan

It is astonshing that in 2012, there are stories like this. Where are you
Mayor Bloomberg? Where are all those hip people who live on Bogart Street
in Bushwick? Is there anyone out there who would join up to help with this building? I know there are many others, but this seems just terrible

Mar. 12 2012 01:13 PM
k webster from nyc

ah yes... these folks should start looking for "other options." Hmm.... cardboard boxes? a good park bench? oh... or all those affordable housing opportunities out there?!
These families (and small landlords) are all out of "options". And don't even get us started on why a veteran finds himself in this position...
But heaven forfend we should put a reasonable tax on the accumulated wealth of people who "legally" stole pension money, homeowners money, and everyone else's taxes during the banking "crisis".
The only question that remains is will there be a thoughtful shift in the obscene inequality of our current wealth distribution (taxes) or a haphazard rebellion that will destroy many people and resources?

Mar. 11 2012 12:56 PM
Political Pop from America

So I posted something in 2008 online called the Domino effect... if these really are the last days I dont see why people say things will get better... in the last days things only continue to get worse

Mar. 10 2012 10:56 AM
Wendy Kraus from NYC

This is heartbreaking. With all our City's wealth, this should not be happening. Mayor Bloomberg, where are you? If the City doesn't step in, can the tiny group of people in Ms. Sharp's building fashion a temporary, grass-roots solution? Can any of those who are about to be evicted move in together? Can Ms. Sharp help facilitate that? (If she could, she'd be heroic, and a model for other landlords and possibly housing programs.) I know this is not ideal. Good luck to everyone in this story. WNYC, please keep us updated!

Mar. 09 2012 02:48 PM
Political Pop from America

"break Spirits" "so once all the world is bitter it will be easier to pursuade"

Mar. 09 2012 10:24 AM

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