COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus) is creating a lot of uncertainty, including if you're looking for an apartment and especially if you have a voucher program. Our team at Landlord Watch is keeping our eyes and ears out for up-to-date reports about how the voucher system is working right now as the city works to contain the spread of the virus.
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Landlord Watch builds digital tools to help people navigate the voucher system, report housing discrimination, and fight for policies that #MakeVouchersWork. We are a small organization funded by Blue Ridge Labs, and we partner with Neighbors Together in Bed-Stuy.
We are working to keep this page up-to-date, because we know that the situation is changing quickly.
Our latest update was July 29 at 5:39 pm EST. Our most recent updates are in blue.
On March 20, Governor Cuomo announced that the state is on PAUSE, mandating that 100% of the workforce stays home except for "essential services" by Executive Order #202.6. The order went into effect Sunday, March 22 at 8 PM.
Brokers and real estate services are not included in Cuomo's list of "essential services." Brokers can still work from home, processing paperwork and scheduling virtual apartment tours without in-person contact. The search engine website StreetEasy has officially moved all apartment viewings to online only, allowing brokers to post walkthrough videos of apartments. Zillow also has an app allowing people to view apartments virtually. We have heard reports that some brokers are conducting "socially distant" in-person interviews, but sometimes the brokers do not respect safety protocol, such as not wearing a mask or getting within 6 feet of others. We have also heard that some brokers are trying to charge huge application fees upfront before agreeing to show an apartment. That isn't right! If this has happened to you or someone you know, let us know here.
According to StreetEasy, new listings are still being posted. However, we have heard some concerns that landlords and brokers are not picking up right now, "warehousing" apartments for later - or cancelling some virtual appointments. Let us know what you’re seeing out there, and we’ll also keep an eye out for trends and report back.
According to an article on the real estate blog Curbed, some moving companies are still offering services. However, according to a lawyer from the Legal Aid Society, "to the extent people can stay where they are, that they are safe where they are, everyone should stay put...landlords and tenants should work together to figure out how people can remain in their apartments while this crisis is going on."
If you are still searching for apartments and making phone calls to look for virtual appointments or to find information, you can still use Landlord Watch to record your phone calls with landlords and brokers, in case anyone tries to discriminate against you and your voucher. Just text “hi” to (503)-300-6454 to get started.
We also know that it might be hard to access wireless internet for some people, especially if you don’t have it set up at home, or you’re staying in a shelter. That can make it hard to search. If you have a child K-12 or a college student in your household, you may qualify for 60 days of free wifi from Spectrum or Optimum/Altice.
We are doing our very best to provide accurate information, but the situation is very fluid, and sometimes there is a difference between what an agency’s policy is and how people are actually experiencing the service. If you are experiencing something different from what your housing agency says, please let us know!
HRA's COVID-19 announcements are available on their website. Here's a summary:
Note that we have heard reports that HRA is processing
As of March 21, HRA's physical offices are closed - they now advise that you "be safe, skip the trip" and use ACCESS HRA or a phone call to communicate with them. All in-person appointments have been cancelled, and there will be no negative actions for missing your appointment. See more on their page here.
However, we have heard from multiple people that getting in touch with their case manager has been slow and difficult at this time. Using HRA online has been better than the phone for some people.
Some people who have found an apartment, but are waiting on an inspection, have experienced delays and cancellations. We have also heard that HRA may be doing 'virtual' inspections, and we'll post more information here when we have it.
No information provided about extensions. We'll keep looking. Let us know if you hear anything!
HPD's COVID-19 announcements are available on their website and their Twitter page. Here's a summary:
100 Gold Street is closed. All tenant briefings have been postponed and will be rescheduled.
Non-emergency HQS inspections are temporarily suspended. Call 311 if you have a life-threatening condition.
HPD will provide additional time for anyone with an active voucher. automatically. No need to reach out if you need an extension.
HPD is suspending all subsidy terminations that were in process until further notice. They will continue paying subsidies until final determinations are made.
HPD Section 8 voucher holders facing rent hardships due to drops in income should email DTRAI@hpd.nyc.gov or fax at 212-863-5299.
Some NYCHA COVID-19 announcements are available on their website and their Twitter. We got the below information from calling their Customer Contact Center at (718) 707-7771 on March 18 and talking to a representative, and from checking updates on their Twitter feed on March 23:
Customer Contact Centers (CCCs) in the Bronx 478 East Fordham Road) and Brooklyn (787 Atlantic) are currently closed to the public through March 20.
At this time, NYCHA Section 8 is scheduling new inspections. A NYCHA representative told us that a few scheduled inspections have been cancelled or postponed, but if that happens to you, they would notify you directly and reschedule.
Starting Monday, March 24 (once the office re-opens), you can go to a walk-in center to request an extension if you need one because it’s hard to find housing during COVID-19.
NYCHA is suspending all NYCHA Section 8 termination actions for at least 60 days. The effective date for recertifications will now be May 1 or later.
HCR's COVID-19 announcements for New York City are available on their website.
The NYC Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher office at 25 Beaver Street in Manhattan is closed until at least March 27 (we assume that this has been extended to at least April 15 given Governor Cuomo's extension of New York on PAUSE, announced March 29). All appointments will take place via email or phone. You may still leave a message at the direct extension for your case manager, or call the general phone number at (212) 480-6672. Calls will be returned as soon as possible.
Housing Quality Standards (HQS) inspections will only be held for families that are either new to the program or relocating, and in response to immediate health and safety complaints.
No information provided about extensions. If you have questions, HCR recommends that you leave a message for your case manager with the phone number and extension you usually use for them, or call the HCR general phone number at (212) 480-6672.
All Homebase locations are closed, but services are available by phone. Homebase locations are all responding to changing conditions, so it may be best to contact them directly. Here’s what we know from their websites and tips from visitors to this FAQ:
CAMBA is providing most services by appointment over the phone as of March 19. Updates are posted on the home page of their website and current status of their programs can be found here.
Riseboro is working remotely and taking over-the-phone appointments as of March 19. Their COVID-19 updates are available here: https://www.riseboro.org//rb/community/covid-19_response/
Bronxworks appears to have select physical locations open (not for Homebase services, but some food services and childcare centers). See their Twitter feed and this website for updates.
As far as we can tell, HelpUSA has not posted on Twitter or their website specifically about the status of their Homebase locations. We are looking into this, but assume that they are closed and have Homebase services available by phone based on HRA's website. Let us know if you hear anything!
As far as we can tell, Catholic Charities has not posted on Twitter or their website specifically about the status of their Homebase locations. We are looking into this, although one user reported that they were unable to get an appointment until May. Let us know if you hear anything!
You have rights where you currently live. If you are housed in an apartment right now, the city has made a list of your rights to remember at this time. Your landlord cannot discriminate against you, kick you out, or ask you to leave your apartment because of fears and stigma around COVID-19, including discrimination or harassment on the basis of actual or perceived race, national origin, disability, or other protected groups. The city is still suggesting that you can report these claims with the NYC Commission on Human Rights.
Met Council also has a tenants' rights hotline, in English and en español: (212) 979-0611. The hours are Monday 1:30-8pm. Tuesday 5:30-8pm, Wednesday 1:30-8pm, and Friday 1:30-5pm.
If you are making calls to brokers or to a landlord, you can use Landlord Watch to record your calls and send us reports if you think you've been discriminated against. You can text “hi” to (503) 300-6454 to get started. This can help us, advocates, and also the city better understand where discrimination is happening so we can take action. However, it's important to know that we anticipate that it will be difficult for the city to respond to your complaint right now. Complaints of voucher discrimination specifically are valid for up to a year, so if you collect and report discrimination now, you may be able to use it later.
SOURCE: We're keeping track of what we're hearing from folks with vouchers and our collaborators.
First of all, know that you are not alone! Many, many New Yorkers are facing hardship after having lost their livelihoods due to COVID-19. This is why it so important right for New Yorkers to organize together and make bold, transformative demands, so that we can emerge from this crisis into a world that looks more, not less just. You can read more about statewide organizing efforts to #CancelRent and demand long-term affordable housing in the last section of this FAQ.
If you do not have a rental assistance voucher, but you are receiving unemployment, the answer to question "Does a landlord have to accept unemployment as a legitimate form of income" is not exactly straightforward. A landlord can still look at a tenants' ability to fulfill obligations under a lease, and, if there's no voucher, impose minimum income requirements. Because unemployment insurance is, by definition, temporary, the landlord could have a "legitimate business interest" in excluding someone who cannot reach their income requirements for the full lease term. If a landlord requires a minimum of 40x the annual rent in income for all non-voucher holders, the owner is within their right to reject someone on unemployment who only earns 30x the rent. However, if the owner imposes the 40x the rent requirement on the person with unemployment and then a tester without unemployment is offered the apartment at 30x the rent, then that could be considered discrimination.
It's important to remember that laws and policies are also not written in stone - considering the thousands of people who have lost their jobs and now rely on unemployment to pay rent, we could envision organizing and advocating for policy change!
SOURCE: We're keeping track of what we're hearing from folks with vouchers and our collaborators.
SHELTERS & SAFETY
There have been multiple reports that safety measures are not being respected in homeless shelters, despite guidance issued by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. For example, in many shelters, rooms are not being sanitized, social distancing is not being enforced in common areas, and shelter residents are not being provided with gloves and masks. Residents in dorm-style shelters are particularly concerned due to crowded living quarters, where it is impossible to "socially distance." Several residents have reported conditions that feel “dangerous and unsanitary." If you have shelter experiences you’d like to share, you can contact us here.
We are mobilizing with a group of homeless advocacy organizations to call for immediate action from Cuomo and De Blasio to ensure the survival and protection of homeless New Yorkers. Amongst our list of demands, we call on the Mayor and the Governor to immediately offer 30,000 of the city's 100,000+ vacant hotel rooms to all homeless people who need a safe room, including those on the streets, those in congregate shelters, and those who have recently become homeless. You can take action by signing our coalition's petition here, and read this open letter of demands collectively authored by VOCAL-NY, Picture the Homeless, Communities United for Police Reform, Neighbors Together, Safety Net Activists, and Human.nyc. Finally, you can help us document and expose conditions inside homeless shelters by sharing your story here, and contributing to our growing movement on Twitter using the hashtag #HomelessCantStayHome.
We know that if NYC is at the epicenter of this virus, homeless folks are on the frontlines. The COVID-19 public health crisis is exposing our city and state for failing to house New Yorkers and to provide access to safe, affordable homes for all. We urge elected officials to do what's right and take immediate action to protect the lives of homeless New Yorkers.
STREETS & SAFETY
On March 26, 2020, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a new guidance to protect the well-being of unsheltered people during COVID-19. They urge city authorities to stop sweeping homeless encampments: "Do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19 unless you have real-time access to individual rooms or units for ALL households in the encampment and a clear plan to safely transport those households. Clearing encampments without these measures in place causes people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers, increasing the potential for infectious disease spread."
However, DHS is still conducting sweeps, as shown by this recent sweep notice. If you see any sweep notices on the street or are impacted by a sweep, let us know. Further, the new nightly subway shutdown from 1am to 5am every day has involved the NYPD forcibly clearing subway trains and stations.
We join other advocates in calling for an immediate end to law enforcement sweeps, diversions, and targeting of homeless New Yorkers. City authorities must leave homeless folks free to protect themselves and practice social distancing as best they can. Empty hotel rooms and other vacant units in the city must be opened up to house the homeless, and food distribution at schools must include the homeless. Please read and share this open letter of demands for Cuomo and de Blasio signed by many homeless advocacy groups.
From Picture the Homeless: it may very well be safer to stay on the street at this time, based on the conditions of shelters.
However, at this time DHS shelter intake should be still open, as they are listed on Cuomo's list of essential services.Please let us know if you experience anything different from this.
All evictions and all lawsuits have been suspended for the duration of the health crisis in NYS - as of Monday, March 16. Housing Courts across the State are closed. This suspension will be in effect for at least 90 days. This suspension is thanks to advocacy efforts from tenants and organizers across New York State. It applies to both residential and commercial tenants. In NYC, there are exceptions for illegal lockouts, serious housing code violations, post-eviction cases, and repair orders. Every borough's Housing Court has an emergency unit open to deal with these cases.
If you have any questions about eviction or court cases, you can contact the Housing Court Answers hotline from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, at (212) 962-4795 or (718) 557-1379 for more information.
July Update: The universal eviction moratorium continues to still be in place until at least August 6. This means there are no Housing Court dates for evictions until then.The Department of Investigation has ordered marshals to not carry out any evictions, indefinitely - which means tenants cannot be removed from their apartments by force.
As of June 22, landlords can start new evictions cases by mail, but the courts are closed to in-person hearings. The landlords must include a notice to the tenant telling them they may have more time to respond and how to get legal services. Tenants who are responding to eviction case papers will be given a phone number to call, rather than having to physically show up in Court.
Finally, it appears that if a landlord receives some form of federal funding, including Section 8 vouchers, they are not allowed to start eviction proceedings until August 25: "Due to the Federal CARES Act, if a landlord receives federal funding (including Section 8 vouchers, NYCHA, LITHC).... then they cannot evict tenants before August 25."
For more specific info on the eviction moratorium and what it might mean for you, see this FAQ page from the NYC Right to Counsel Coalition. To understand your rights after the end of the moratorium, check-out this page, also courtesy of NYC Right to Counsel Coalition.
Millions of New Yorkers have lost jobs and income due to COVID-19 and will be unable to pay rent for the coming months. There is a Statewide push to #CancelRent, which you can support by signing-on to this petition to suspend rent and utility payments. If you are unable to pay rent, here is a useful FAQ on "What to do on April 1st", and a toolkit about how to participate in a rent strike, courtesy of the Right to Counsel Coalition.
If you'd like to learn more about the eviction moratorium and the #CancelRent campaign, click here to watch an introductory video by the Right to Counsel Coalition. You can also click here to read the campaign's full list of demands.
Finally, Mayor De Blasio is in support of a "rent freeze" for New York City's rent stabilized apartments. If you live in one of the city's 1 million rent-stabilized apartment, this means your rent would not go up at all this year. Not sure whether you are rent stabilized? Click here to find out.
MUTUAL AID RESOURCES
Across New York City, many mutual aid networks are popping up to respond to Covid-19 locally and rapidly. Mutual aid means that neighbors are helping out their community directly without going through a governmental agency or a non-profit organization. When the government fails us, we can protect and support each other through peer-to-peer solidarity. For example, folks are offering free childcare and tutoring, fundraising for those who've lost their jobs, or running errands for sick, elderly, or at-risk neighbors. To find a mutual aid group in your neighborhood or borough, check-out NYC United Against Coronavirus - this live document lists many mutual aid groups and resources, borough by borough.
SOURCE: Much of the info from this section came from a press conference called by Vocal NY, Picture the Homeless, Neighbors Together, Communities United for Police Reform, human.nyc, and Safety Net Activists at the Urban Justce Center. The virtual press conference was on March 23rd at 2pm. The information here has since been updated through communication with the advocacy groups aforementioned, as well as news articles on abc7NY and Curbed NY.
We are coordinating with housing advocates around the city, many of whom are working around the clock to put together resource guides and FAQs about social services and mutual aid networks that aim to help New Yorkers manage the impact on their families, livelihoods, and homes. We will keep linking here as new resources emerge, and let us know if you find any that have helped you!