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Exclusive: Housing Advocates' Report Details Alleged Discrimination Against New Yorkers With Rental Assistance

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Wednesday, housing advocates released never-before-seen data alleging rampant discrimination against New Yorkers with housing assistance.

CBS2's Ali Bauman got an exclusive look at the report Tuesday and why advocates argue it is exacerbating the city's homeless crisis.

A woman named Sophia, who asked to remain anonymous, has notebooks filled with New York apartments she says she was rejected from after applying with her rental assistance voucher.

"As soon as they hear voucher, they think you're on public assistance, you're a drug addict ... and it's a shame because not everybody is," she said.

She had hoped a state rental voucher would be her way out of the Queens women's shelter where she was living with her two daughters, but Sophia could not find a landlord who would take it.

"So many let downs. So many, 'Oh no, we don't accept vouchers,'" she said. "They don't want kids, it would be too noisy. It was always one thing after the other."

What it was is called source of income discrimination, and it's illegal.

"Thousands of New Yorkers are still locked out of the housing market by rampant discriminatory practices," said housing advocate Fannie Lou Diane, with Neighbors Together.

About 200,000 New Yorkers have housing vouchers, and a new report from advocates details hundreds of cases of people experiencing the same discrimination as Sophia.

"Whenever I apply about viewing an apartment, I often receive no reply or even asked to pay 12 months up front just to view an apartment, and that the money would be refundable," said one voucher holder.

Sophia reported landlords to the City Commission on Human Rights, which is the enforcement agency that litigates on behalf of voucher holders.

"Little by little, less staff, no one was calling me back," she said.

In a statement, a City Hall spokesperson said in part, "The City Commission on Human Rights takes every call and every case seriously" and has "implemented a protocol to intervene in situations where landlords are refusing vouchers, typically within 48 hours."

The report, however, claims city budget cuts have left only one person on that unit.

"The problem is the law isn't being enforced," City Councilman Erik Bottcher said. "We still have one inspector at the Division on Human Rights for a city of 8.5 million people."

"The fact that source of income discrimination is still so prevalent and still creating such a barrier for people to access housing is keeping people homeless longer," said Amy Blumsack, with Neighbors Together.

Advocates fear until the city reinvests in its enforcement, too many New Yorkers experiencing homelessness will continue to fall through the cracks and stay on the streets.

"They need way more funding and way more resources. The capacity that they have is not enough to meet the need of the amount of source of income discrimination that is happening," Blumsack said.

The city says in 2021, it received 200 complaints of source of income discrimination, wh ich is down from the nearly 500 complaints it received in 2020.

City officials add while there is only one person on staff taking all the complaints of voucher discrimination, the commission does have 30 attorneys able to assist.

Editor's note: This story first appeared on Feb. 8

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