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"Section 8" And The Single Landlord

by Joe Lamport, Nov 04, 2003
 Â Many people might assume Gerardo Diuccio is the stereotypical mean landlord: On a recent afternoon he was at the Brooklyn Housing Court, trying to evict a tenant who has always paid her rent and has never caused him any grief. She has not damaged his apartment or run up the water bill. Diuccio has not had heated arguments with her about noise, where she puts her garbage or anything else.

He is evicting her anyhow. He doesn't want her out - he wants Section 8 out. Diuccio is tired of having to deal with the administrative rules and procedures of Section 8, the federal housing subsidy that helps thousands of low-income New Yorkers pay their monthly rent.

"I can't take it anymore," he said. "I don't even want to hear the name Section 8 anymore." Diuccio is not alone. Until about five years ago, owners of unregulated apartments could not "opt out" of Section 8. But a change in federal law now means that they can, and they are. More and more landlords seem to see the subsidy program as so bureaucratic and slow they are withdrawing their apartments from it.

And that is effectively denying New Yorkers affordable housing.

As of March 31, 85,229 apartments in New York City were rented under the Section 8 program, according to the New York City Housing Authority's web site. People on Section 8 receive the help in one of two forms: they either live in a Section 8 project or they have a Section 8 voucher allowing them to rent from a landlord who has signed up for the program.

The number of people who qualify for Section 8 far outnumbers the number of vouchers available; more than 150,000 New Yorkers are on a voucher waiting list, which was closed in 1994. With demand high, only people in homeless shelters, suffering domestic abuse or considered to be intimidated witnesses can get new vouchers. Section 8 recipients contribute 30 percent of their household income to pay their rent; the subsidy covers the rest.

Diuccio is one of almost 30,000 private landlords in New York City who participate in Section 8. His troubles started in 2002, when Section 8 accepted his request to increase the rent by $43 per month. Yet, he said, he's never seen one penny of it.

"They never give me that raise," he said. "Every time it's something. 'I can't find the paper.' They keep saying, 'Don't worry you're going to get your money.'� I don't want to deal with it anymore."

It is difficult to tell how many landlords are reacting like Diuccio. But Randi Massey, senior staff attorney at Legal Services of New York-Bronx, said she has heard so many such complaints that she has considered filing a federal lawsuit to compel improvements in Section 8's administration.

Among other administrative headaches for landlords is a lack of cooperation from Section 8 administrators that is mystifying, Massey said.

"If (a landlord) calls the tenant's worker to see what the problem is, they very often say, 'Sir, I can't give you that information, you have to subpoena it,'" Massey said. "There's no legal reason for that secrecy. That's ridiculous."

By paying landlords who have several tenants receiving Section 8 one lump-sum check, the Section 8 administrators create more problems, too. Given just one check, a landlord is hard-pressed to know which tenant has been cut off the subsidy or which apartment has been recertified after passing an inspection.

For Diuccio, more of Section 8's rules will make leaving the program difficult because he wants to help his tenant get a transfer from Section 8, which will allow her to move to a new Section 8 apartment. And in order to do that, she has to be evicted. After three visits to Brooklyn's Housing Court, Diuccio said that evicting his good tenant would cost him about $350.

"I'm sorry I got involved with Section 8," he said. "I did it because I want to help people. I'm a good person. It's going to cost me money now to get out."

Joe Lamport is the assistant director of the City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court, a coalition of community housing organizations.

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