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Homeless Shelter Residents Say Landlords Are Refusing Their City Rent Vouchers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The latest battle to get homeless people off the streets has pitted those in shelters against their potential landlords.

As CBS2's Jessica Schneider reported, a city program that literally gives free rent money to the homeless is being scoffed at by apartment owners.

Yolanda and Mark Williford have been pounding the New York City pavement for four months now. They're just a few of the dozens who rely on the assistance of "Picture the Homeless," a Harlem-based advocacy group for the homeless.

The organization provides support on multiple levels for homeless people, including access to computers and the Internet, counseling, and educational training.

"We want our own apartment, where we can go home to our own apartment," Mark Williford said.

"I'm hurting. I'm very hurt," said Yolanda Williford. "I'm destroyed."

The Willifords keep a list of brokers they have talked with, and apartments they are interested in. But they are still living in a homeless shelter.

"All we want is somebody to tell us on the phone. 'Yes,'" Mark Williford said. "That's all we need."

They even have a voucher for $1,268, as part of a city program called LINC – short for Living in Communities. Under the program, the city guarantees landlords a monthly payment.

But the Willifords cannot convince even one landlord to rent to them – and they're not alone.

"I can't believe I'm holding a piece of paper that's worthless," said one single mother.

The woman asked not to be identified, because her 23-year-old son does not want people to know the predicament they are in.

She works more than 40 hours a week as a home health aide, but still cannot afford an apartment – even in the buildings that boast affordable housing.

"Low income to them is $1,8(00), $2,000, $3,00 a month. That's not low income to me -- I can't afford that," the woman said. "Low income to me is $600, $700, and I've still have to eat."

City officials stress that landlords cannot discriminate based on income. But landlords defend their reluctance to rent based on the city vouchers.

Landlords got burned with the sudden cancellation of another city voucher program in 2011.

Now, Frank Ricci of the Rent Stabilization Program says "the abrupt ending to the Advantage program... left formerly homeless tenants with the inability to pay rent that the city had agreed to pay, and owners without any recourse to recoup the rent."

But the homeless people looking for apartments say they need another chance.

"I want a home. I want to consider it being home," the woman who asked not to be identified said. "In the shelter, it's not. There's no peace."

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