A landmark lawsuit filed by tenant advocacy group The Housing Rights Initiative is naming 124 of NYC’s largest real estate holding companies — with notable Bronx portfolios in the mix — after an undercover sting allegedly exposed mass civil rights violations against tenants of those properties.
“Housing discrimination is alive and well in New York City,” was the emphatic statement from Aaron Carr, founder and executive director of Housing Rights Initiative Carr. “These landlords, these brokers, this real estate industry, factually, undeniably, and unequivocally broke the law, and they broke it with reckless abandon. The one and only solution to homelessness is housing, but until real estate opens its doors to homeless New Yorkers, New York’s homelessness crisis will continue unabated forever.”
The suit accuses the defendants — landlords and brokers who refused to rent apartments to New Yorkers with vouchers — of applying “artificial and unnecessary” minimum income requirements that bar nearly all households with a voucher from securing housing in the defendants’ properties.
The suit alleged that the landlord’s use of minimum income qualifications, which require prospective tenants to earn an annual income of 35 -40 times the monthly rent, serves as a “de facto bar” against all Housing Choice Voucher holders who, by definition, are too low-income to qualify.
“Housing discrimination is alive and well in New York City,” said Carr. “These landlords, these brokers, this real estate industry, factually, undeniably, and unequivocally broke the law, and they broke it with reckless abandon. The one and only solution to homelessness is housing, but until real estate opens its doors to homeless New Yorkers, New York’s homelessness crisis will continue unabated forever.”
The accusations stem from investigations done by civil rights “testers” working undercover, who called brokers about listings and asked about using vouchers, according to the suit.
In 2021, a Housing Rights Initiative suit scored $1 million for overcharged tenants in NYC, and then called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to act on systemic housing issues in the state.
Building firm 1961 Madison Realty LLC, one of the defendants in the lawsuit, has a wide Bronx portfolio. However, Department of Housing Preservation and Development records obtained by the Bronx Times show 104 open violations at just three of their Bronx properties — 669 Jefferson Ave. (Claremont), 828 Jackson Ave. (Woodstock) and 444 E. 136th St. (Mott Haven).
Another firm, notorious landlord Khamin Associates, LLC, is also named in the suit, with a Bronx portfolio that includes 2250 Grand Concourse (175 open violations), 2720 Decatur Ave. (123 open violations), 1242 Morris Ave. (104 open violations) and 3336 Perry Ave. (89 open violations).
Bronx Times reached out to both firms and is awaiting a response.
City Councilmember Pierina Sanchez, who chairs the council’s Housing and Building committee, said defendants in the lawsuit have undercut months of progress from council chambers to increase the threshold for voucher amounts and payment bonuses for landlords accepting city vouchers.
“Each rejection is a set back for vulnerable tenants, who only have 120 days to secure housing upon issuance of their CityFHEPS vouchers, and it is shameless for any entity to blatantly disregard prospective tenant applications as a result of their source of income,” said Sanchez, a Fordham Progressive. “The City’s response to source of income discrimination directly encourages this despicable yet conspicuous behavior, as there are still no attorneys hired or baselined for hire to protect our most vulnerable tenants.”
NYC Housing vouchers are designed to provide homeless or low-income New Yorkers safe and affordable apartments outside of areas with concentrated poverty. Holders have their monthly rent payments limited to household income, with the remainder being covered by the voucher.
“As a result, thousands of New Yorkers with vouchers are unable to leave overcrowded homeless shelters, substandard housing and high-poverty neighborhoods, even though their housing vouchers provide them the financial means, and the legal right, to do so,” an excerpt from the suit reads.”They did so in violation of local and state law, even as New York City faces a housing crisis and the ravages of a global pandemic.”
More than 47,000 people slept each night in New York City’s homeless shelter system, according to the city’s homeless services and New York’s renters are still struggling to either maintain or access housing amid high rents and threat of eviction.
For the third year in a row, the Bronx led the state in eviction filings, a percentage of household filings that went down to 2.1% in 2021, after rates hit 5.5% in 2020 and 13.2% in 2019.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at email@example.com or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes