The caller was a woman looking to move with her boyfriend into a studio apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, advertised for $1,751 a month. The man who answered, the real estate broker on the listing, said he would be happy to show them the place.
The woman, however, had one last question: Would the landlord accept her federal housing voucher for tenants of lesser means, known as Section 8?
“If she accept what? Oh, no, she would not,” Harris Philip, an independent broker, told the woman, who was actually an undercover investigator for a watchdog group. “She just doesn’t. She wants well-qualified people.”
That exchange, secretly recorded by the group, Housing Rights Initiative, in February 2020 and shared with The Times, is part of a sweeping lawsuit filed on Monday in federal court in Manhattan that accuses 88 brokerage firms and landlords in New York City of discriminating against people with housing vouchers.
the founder and executive director of the Housing Rights Initiative, which started in 2016. “They are the gatekeepers of housing and get to decide where families live, where they work and where children go to school. Housing discrimination goes beyond the walls of housing.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and for the discriminatory practices to be stopped.
has a form for tenants to submit complaints. A spokeswoman said most complaints are resolved with the office sending a cease-and-desist letter to end the discriminatory practices.
The suit accuses brokers and landlords of violating the city’s and state’s income discrimination laws, among the most protective in the country for tenants with housing vouchers.
“Between legal services providers, civil rights law firms and oversight agencies, there aren’t enough people to deal with this widespread issue,” said Robert Desir, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society, which was involved in the lawsuit. “Our hope is that through these lawsuits and publicizing the situation, we can bring people to task, especially owners who have access to a large number of apartments.”
The New York City Housing Authority, the country’s largest Section 8 provider, has a wait list of 36,065 applicants, the agency said. People trying to leave shelters and survivors of domestic violence are given preference.
Section 8 housing recipients typically pay 30 percent of their monthly income toward rent, with the voucher covering the balance of the rent and utilities.