By Naeisha Rose
The city filed two lawsuits last week against landlords of two property management companies alleging discrimination against prospective tenants who use vouchers to help them pay their rent in a move that brought a swift reaction from Queens lawmakers, according to the Department of Social Services.
Elected officials across the city were disheartened to learn that Oxford Realty and Atlas Realty have been accused of discriminating against potential renters who rely on Section 8 and other programs for rental assistance in Staten Island and the Bronx, and are putting landlords across all five boroughs on notice.
Oxford Realty, which is based in Manhattan, also has properties in Queens at Murray Hill, Long Island City, Woodside, Rego Park, Kew Gardens and Middle Village. Atlas is also based in Manhattan, but doesn’t currently have any properties in the borough.
DSS Source of Income Discrimination Unit was formed in 2017 and works to prevent and prosecute instances of housing discrimination based on lawful source of income, according to the organization. To date it has responded to more than 50 referrals of SOI discrimination. At least four of those cases involved discrimination towards potential renters from Queens. In one of the four cases the SOI unit helped to get a renter housed.
The SOI Discrimination hotline is 929-221-6576.
The unit was formed as a part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Turning the Tide initiative to combat homelessness.
“Landlords be warned: our city will not tolerate discrimination of any kind against New Yorkers who rely on public assistance,” said de Blasio. “Today’s lawsuits demonstrate our commitment to enforcing fair housing practices by holding landlords, management companies, and brokers accountable for unlawful discrimination against hard-working New Yorkers seeking housing.”
There are 10,513 people housed in shelters in Queens, according to DSS Commissioner Steve Banks at a spring meeting at Queens Borough Hall.
“This lawsuit sends a loud and clear message that housing discrimination in New York City is completely unacceptable,” said City Councilman Daniel Dromm, chairman of the Finance Committee (D-Jackson Heights). “The source of income discrimination is a serious problem facing our city, leading to greater housing insecurity for immigrants, people who have experienced homelessness, those living with HIV/AIDS and many others.”
Among the programs affected by the suit, LINC vouchers help families move out of shelters, while FHEPS, CITYFEPS, SEPS help those facing eviction and homelessness and HASA provides rental subsidies for people with HIV/AIDS who are struggling financially, according to the city.
“With the creation of the newly formed Department of Social Services Source of Income Discrimination Unit, New Yorkers utilizing government assistance programs will now have an additional recourse if discriminated against when seeking housing,” said state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills). “This provides one of many needed efforts to combat the worst homeless crisis since the Great Depression.” He is the chairman of the Committee on Social Services.
In the first case, Oxford Realty was sued because landlords allegedly told potential tenants over the phone that they could not use housing vouchers at their Seaview Estates rental apartment complex at 201 Hamilton Ave. in Staten Island.
In the second case, Atlas Realty was sued because it allegedly posted advertisements on real estate websites apart
The phrases in the posts included “not accepting any voucers” and “no vouchers are being accepted for this apartment.”
“To any landlord that refuses to rent to New Yorkers receiving public assistance to pay their rent: consider yourselves officially on notice,” said DSS Commissioner Steven Banks. “Our city will fight hard against this illegal, discriminatory behavior, and with the Department of Social Services’ Source of Income Discrimination Unit we are prepared to intervene and prosecute.”
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose