NYCHA's Failure To Timely Transfer Section 8 Subsidies Causes Evictions and Homelessness, Legal Aid Lawsuit Charges

A federal lawsuit, filed Monday by The Legal Aid Society and the law firm of Latham & Watkins LLP, charges that the New York City Housing Authority takes so long to process Section 8 subsidy transfers for low-income tenants who face eviction through no fault of their own that families end up homeless.

NYCHA's computer system for processing Section 8 payments is a major problem, causing backlogs in paperwork for landlords to receive subsidy payments, leaving tenants in arrears when they are not. Court papers in the case show that NYCHA has routinely lost the necessary paperwork.

Some 30,000 New Yorkers who receive the Section 8 subsidy from NYCHA live in unregulated apartments where landlords can evict them without cause. Timely transfers by NYCHA of Section 8 subsidies to new apartments are critical to preventing homelessness for these New Yorkers.

Legal Aid lawyers representing the plaintiffs include Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit; Ellen Davidson, a Staff Attorney in the unit; and Sebastian Riccardi and Kathleen Brennan, Staff Attorneys in the Brooklyn Office for the Aging. Latham & Watkins attorneys on the case include: Christopher Harris, partner; Paul Serritella, associate; and Gina Gencarelli, associate.

New York Daily News
NYCHA's slow response forces some evicted families into shelters, lawsuit claims
Report finds agency computer system for processing Section 8 payments causing 'major backlogs and slow turnaround times' processing landlord and tenant paperwork
By Greg B. Smith
September 26, 2012

Lawsuit claims NYCHA takes too long finding evicted residents new housing causing them to wind up homeless.

Low-income tenants evicted through no fault of their own wind up homeless because the city Housing Authority is so slow finding them new places to live, a class-action lawsuit charges.

The suit, filed Monday by the Legal Aid Society, says NYCHA takes months to respond when families are evicted, forcing some families into shelters — even though the agency is required to “promptly” relocate tenants under the federal housing subsidy program known as Section 8.

“NYCHA routinely delays processing participants’ emergency requests for transfer vouchers for months at a time,” the suit, filed in Manhattan Federal Court, alleges.

About 30,000 NYCHA residents who get the subsidy live in unregulated apartments where landlords can evict them without cause.

Legal Aid says this often occurs when NYCHA cuts off funding after finding apartment conditions are unsafe, prompting landlords to seek eviction.

About 3,000 of these households requested emergency transfers to safe housing in 2008.

Tenants say NYCHA routinely loses their paperwork, demands unnecessary documentation that they’re not in arrears in rent, and delays help.

An internal consultant’s report released last month confirmed NYCHA’s troubles, finding that the agency’s new computerized system for processing Section 8 payments was causing “major backlogs and slow turnaround times” processing paperwork for both landlords and tenants.

A NYCHA spokeswoman said she could not comment on the suit.

Plaintiff Jonelle Shepherd said she and her two kids waited more than a year after she requested a transfer. During that time, the family was evicted and is now doubling up with Shepherd’s mother in a two-bedroom Flatbush apartment.

Shepherd, 31, says her troubles began in 2011 after NYCHA deemed her Chelsea apartment unsafe due to dangerous conditions, including a window that would suddenly slam shut. She says her landlord evicted her when she refused to say everything was fixed when it wasn’t.

Shepherd asked for an emergency transfer in July 2011, but was told soon after that NYCHA lost her paperwork. She filed a new request.

Months later, NYCHA demanded a sworn affidavit from her landlord saying she didn’t owe back rent. They requested this even though the court had already determined she didn’t.

Last month NYCHA told her that it had stopped processing that request, so she filed again.

“I did everything NYCHA asked me to do,” she said. “My kids, they depend on me. They’re looking at me, why did you let them kick us out? I have nothing to tell them.”

Legal Aid files lawsuit against New York over Section 8 housing
By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK, Sept 26 (Reuters) - The New York City Housing Authority is dragging its feet on helping low-income tenants find new apartments, forcing many of them to choose between homelessness or the loss of their federal housing subsidies, according to a federal class action filed Tuesday by the Legal Aid Society.

The lawsuit, brought in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, claims that NYCHA routinely takes months to handle requests from families that are facing eviction, in violation of federal regulations under the Section 8 housing program. According to the lawsuit, NYCHA frequently asks tenants for unnecessary information, further slowing the process.

"These unreasonable delays violate the Housing Act and its implementing regulations resulting in the de facto termination of participants from the Section 8 program," the lawsuit said.

NYCHA declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation.

The lawsuit follows two other federal cases brought by Legal Aid against NYCHA last fall. The other two, pending in federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan, accuse NYCHA of taking too long to lower families' rent share after their incomes dropped and failing to provide adequate documentation when terminating families from the program.

Section 8 provides subsidies to low-income families that typically cover the difference between their rent and 30 percent of their income. The city operates the country's largest Section 8 program, with approximately 230,000 residents living in more than 90,000 subsidized apartments, according to NYCHA's website.

The lawsuit names three plaintiffs, all women, who claim their transfer requests were unduly delayed.

Jonelle Shepherd, a single mother with two young children, claims she has waited for more than a year for NYCHA to process her transfer request, according to the lawsuit. In the meantime, Shepherd and her children were evicted and are now staying with family.

The lawsuit asked the court to find that NYCHA has violated federal housing law and the 14th Amendment and to require NYCHA to develop procedures to eliminate the delays and avoid requests for unnecessary documentation.

The case is Shepherd v. Rhea, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 12-cv-7220.

For Shepherd: Christopher Harris, Paul Serritella and Gina Gencarelli of Latham & Watkins; Steven Banks, Adriene Holder, Ellen Davidson, Judith Goldiner, Sebastian Riccardi and Kathleen Brennan of the Legal Aid Society.

For NYCHA: New York City Housing Authority Legal Department.