The Legal Aid Society and Legal Services NYC have filed two federal lawsuits against the New York City Housing Authority on behalf of clients whose Section 8 subsidies have been wrongfully terminated or who have been required to pay unaffordable and illegal rents each month due to NYCHA's failure to adjust their family rent share. The lawsuits charge that NYCHA has violated federal law, the implementing regulations and its own policies and procedures. In countless instances, NYCHA has either failed to send the recertification package that Section 8 participants must complete as part of their annual review or failed to track the return of such packages.
Because of NYCHA's failures, and not their own, participants were terminated from the program. Due to NYCHA's unlawful policies and practices, numerous low-income families throughout New York City that rely on the Section 8 subsidy to help pay their monthly rent are subject to eviction because their landlords consider them responsible for paying the entire rent after their subsidies are terminated. "NYCHA is systematically terminating needy Section 8 families for allegedly failing to fill out proper paperwork when the families have submitted the paperwork and NYCHA has lost it or because NYCHA never sent the families the paperwork in the first instance. Families are being sued in housing court and many are at risk of homelessness. Although we have continually asked NYCHA to fix these problems, NYCHA has refused," said Robert Desir, a staff attorney in the Civil Practice's Law Reform Unit, who is one of the attorneys handling the case.
In testimony before the New York City Council, Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice's Law Reform Unit, said that "the problem, they say, can be traced back to 2008 when NYCHA replaced housing counselors with a centralized calling center to handle annual re-certifications for Section 8 tenants. We are really seeing a huge number of what I would call administrative failures on the housing authority's part which, sounds really benign except that it's leading to people losing their homes, being sued in housing court, getting evicted." Families that receive Section 8 have 30 percent of their income go toward rent. The rest of the balance is covered by the subsidy. NYCHA has been setting up systems that have failed. Computerizing files has caused major problems for tenants. "Files are lost, files are missing files have not been scanned...it's really a mess," Goldiner said.
In a WNYC story by Cindy Rodriguez, the plight of Raquel Collazo, a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits, was featured. Ms. Collazo, a client of Paralegal Xinmia Malave, said she and her 10-year-old son are threatened with eviction because she was terminated from Section 8.
Thousands Threatened With Eviction Due to Housing Authority Errors
October 08, 2011
By Cindy Rodriguez
The city’s Housing Authority wrongfully terminated thousands of low-income residents from federally funded Section 8 housing over a two-year period, Legal Aid attorneys claimed in a recent City Council hearing.
The problem, they say, can be traced back to 2008 when NYCHA replaced housing counselors with a centralized calling center to handle annual re-certifications for Section 8 tenants, according to Legal Aid attorney Judith Goldiner. "We are really seeing a huge number of what I would call administrative failures on the housing authority's part which, sounds really benign except that it's leading to people losing their homes, being sued in housing court, getting evicted," Goldiner said. Families that receive Section 8 have 30 percent of their income go toward rent. The rest of the balance is covered by the subsidy.
Legal Aid filed two lawsuits against the Housing Authority on behalf of more than 30 tenants on September 27 alleging NYCHA's administrative errors have lead to wrongful Section 8 terminations as well as rent miscalculations causing many families to pay more than what's required. Raquel Collazo, a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits, said she and her 10-year-old son are on the verge of being evicted from their two-bedroom apartment in Ridgewood, Queens. Collazo is a single mom who works at Toys R Us in Times Square. She said that despite re-certifying on time she was terminated from Section 8 last December. "I've contacted the customer care number several times," she said. "I've been given the run around." Without the subsidy, Collazo says there's no way she can afford her $1300 a month rent.
The Housing Authority said it could not comment on the alleged problems because of the pending litigation. Officials also declined to attend a City Council hearing on the issue on September 27. Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, who held the hearing, said she was very upset about NYCHA's absence. "They mentioned the lawsuit but under different leadership they've come to my committee hearings even when they're being sued,"said Mendez. She cited a hearing on malfunctioning elevators held in the wake of serious accidents in NYCHA complexes.
Goldiner said NYCHA's attempt to computerize its paper files is also exacerbating the problem because she said NYCHA staff has been unable to produce files and paperwork when questioned about errors. "Files are lost, files are missing files have not been scanned...it's really a mess," Goldiner said.
This week, Legal Aid is set to ask a judge for a preliminary injunction that would halt all terminations until the lawsuit is resolved.
City Hall News
By Daniel Prendergast
Despite the smile she wears in front of her two children, Jermaine Walker is worried. The unemployed Brooklyn mom is facing eviction from her apartment after the New York City Housing Authority dropped her from the Section 8 voucher program in February.
The agency claimed she never submitted the documents necessary to renew the subsidy and promptly terminated her from the program, sending her $60 monthly rent skyrocketing to $1,118.
There’s just one problem—Walker did everything right. She hand-delivered the documents to NYCHA months before she was dropped. Now Walker is living with the consequences of NYCHA’s mistake as her landlord tries to evict her.
“It’s been devastating,” Walker said. “I try to keep this away from my kids as much as possible. I don’t want them to worry about us possibly not having anywhere to stay.”
Walker, 41, is not the only Section 8 recipient who has a gripe with NYCHA. She is one of several plaintiffs in a pair of lawsuits claiming NYCHA errors pushed them out of the Section 8 program without cause or improperly made their rent unaffordable. As a result, all of the plaintiffs are in danger of losing their homes.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is getting involved too, releasing a report recently that details the number of errors. He recommends NYCHA suspend automatic evictions from unpaid rent until the problems can be resolved.
“I know that there’s nothing I’ve done wrong,” Walker said. “I did everything I was supposed to do, and I need that subsidy.”
The plaintiffs’ lawyers trace the problems to early 2010, when NYCHA switched from a system that let tenants deal directly with caseworkers to a computerized central call center.
Judith Goldiner, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society representing the plaintiffs, said human error is responsible for the nightmare many Section 8 voucher recipients are facing today.
“I think part of it is just incompetence,” Goldiner said. “Before this whole switchover it was a program that pretty much ran smoothly, and when it didn’t, tenants had people to talk to who could help them resolve those problems. There’s no one to help resolve those problems anymore.”
NYCHA claims the system—known as NICE for “NYCHA Improving the Customer Experience”—has actually helped make things easier for tenants looking to resolve issues.
“NICE has created a more rigorous document tracking process that does not rely on employee discretion and contains builtin quality control features,” spokeswoman Sheila Stainback wrote in a statement.
For many of the plaintiffs threatened with eviction as a result of what they say are NYCHA’s errors, the new system has been anything but convenient.
One of the lawsuits claims NYCHA failed to mail some tenant-recertiﬁcation packages, which give Section 8 recipients several months to reapply for the subsidy before it is set to expire. Others that were mailed and returned were never registered in the agency’s database, the lawsuit says.
Another lawsuit claims NYCHA failed to lower other tenants’ monthly rents after they reported a loss of income. While the subsidy covers the majority of the rent, Section 8 recipients are required to pay 30 percent of their monthly income. If a tenant’s income falls, NYCHA is required to lower the tenant’s rent as well.Goldiner blames the errors on the new computerized system, and said the old system’s human involvement kept people accountable.
“There’s still a big backlog on the part of the people whose job it was to scan tenants’ information into the system,” she said. “If the information doesn’t get put into the system, the computer is programmed to terminate you.”
When some tenants contacted NYCHA to call attention to the problems they were having, Goldiner said, they were told to be patient. In Walker’s case, her patience was rewarded months later with a letter of termination from NYCHA and a notice of eviction from her landlord.
“I wasn’t worried until my landlord told me he didn’t receive his portion of the rent,” Walker said. “When I spoke to NYCHA, they told me I was terminated. They said that somebody had gotten my recertification package but that it was never logged into the system. They were basically telling me that somebody just didn’t do their job. Their attitude was pretty much, ‘Oh, well. Deal with it.’ It’s just not right.”
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