Equal Housing Opportunities in
New York: An Evaluation of
Section 8 Housing Programs in Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse
Findings and Recommendations
According to information gathered at the factfinding meetings in Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, the Section 8 rent subsidy program succeeded in assisting many minorities in affording their homes, but failed in helping minorities to move out of areas of high poverty or minority concentration. Contrary to the requirements of the Fair Housing Act, the Section 8 rent subsidy program in these three regions of upstate New York has not been administered in a manner that “affirmatively furthers” fair housing.
Based on the data presented at these factfinding meetings and gathered subsequently, the Committee drew the following findings of fact and developed appropriate, remedial recommendations.
1. HUD Administration of Section 8
Under its regulations, HUD is required to review Administrative Plans submitted by each housing jurisdiction regarding how it intends to provide housing opportunities outside of low-income and minority-concentrated areas. HUD has failed to review these plans. When viewed in light of the unusually high degree of racial segregation in these three metropolitan areas, HUD’s failure to ensure that the Section 8 program affirmatively furthers fair housing is consequential and takes on added significance.
Before 1995, all Housing Authorities (HAs) were required to submit for HUD approval an Equal Opportunity Housing Plan (EOHP) that included four regulatorily required objectives to ensure nondiscrimination in their Section 8 programs. Since the 1995 revision, however, the HAs are required to submit only an Administrative Plan containing the same objectives. These objectives, though included in the plan, do not have the same regulatory enforceability as the EOHP.
HUD published a proposed regulation on December 2, 1996, to implement a mechanism for systematic analysis of Section 8’s progress in assisting families in moving to areas of lower poverty concentration. This mechanism called the Section 8 Management Assessment Program (SEMAP) includes a requirement for “geocoding” or mapping of the location of current Section 8 apartments with race and poverty data. Although such a mechanism would be helpful to address the concerns identified in the Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse regions, the regulation is yet to be finalized and implemented.
There appears to be a conflict between two sets of regulations, a New York State law and HUD’s “portability” regulations. New York State law allows public housing authorities to administer Section 8 programs outside of their own municipal boundaries, while HUD maintains a stricter standard. While the Buffalo and Rochester programs, with HUD’s acquiescence, routinely let subsidy holders use their subsidies throughout the region, as the State law allows, the Syracuse area programs invoke the far more burdensome requirement of the HUD portability regulations. This unresolved ambiguity between the HUD and State regulations has caused a regional variation, creating sometimes an additional and unnecessary barrier for Section 8 families that may significantly impede them from moving outside of the city.
As required by its regulations, HUD should conduct a thorough review of all Administrative Plans to determine whether agencies are in compliance with HUD fair housing regulations. This review should include a systematic evaluation and monitoring of the compliance of the local administrator’s Section 8 program, including outreach to landlords, testing for exclusionary admissions policies, and providing affirmative mobility counseling.
Those agencies not in compliance with HUD’s regulations, statutes, or grant requirements should be sanctioned, including but not limited to conditioning further HUD funding on substantial progress in meeting the statutory requirement to affirmatively further fair housing, or when necessary, moving the program funds to another organization that can demonstrate it will promote fair housing.
HUD should reinstate the Equal Opportunity Housing Plan as a regulatory requirement in order to ensure its enforceability. Alternatively, HUD should require that each Section 8 program administrator prepare a “mobility plan” to be incorporated into its Section 8 administration contract with HUD. The housing administrator should be obligated to evaluate critically mobility impediments and describe steps that will be taken to overcome them, including cooperating with other Section 8 housing agencies in the region.
HUD should finalize the Section 8 Management Assessment Program (SEMAP) regulations without shying away from “geocoding” and other pertinent performance criteria. Specifically, housing administrators should be required to prepare maps illustrating where Section 8 subsidies are being used along with race and poverty census tract data in order to identify whether additional landlord outreach and tenant counseling activities are necessary.
HUD should consider relaxing its portability regulations to be more in line with New York State regulations that allow public housing authorities to administer Section 8 programs outside of their own municipal boundaries rather than transferring subsidies or cross-billing each other if a subsidy holder moves from the primary service area of one program to that of another.
2. Residency Requirements
Of the 11 housing agencies that administer Section 8 programs in the three cities studied, 7 maintain residency requirements for their programs. The impact of these requirements is to deny inner-city minorities access to housing subsidies available to suburban residents, consequently denying them access to housing opportunities equal to those of nonminority suburban families
HUD has failed to conduct a required statistical analysis of the local residency preferences in any of the three regions (either before or after implementation of the suburban residency preferences) to determine whether those residency preferences have racially exclusionary effects. Because of the racially exclusionary, segregative impact of residency requirements, HUD may be failing to ensure that the Section 8 program affirmatively furthers fair housing.
Residency preferences used for the Belmont program are an impediment to housing choice for minorities. The provisions of the Comer consent decree do not eliminate the residency preferences for the Belmont program, but only suspend them for a period of 5 years.
Current residency preferences in the suburban Section 8 programs should be eliminated in order to give low-income minority families from high-poverty urban areas access to the same housing opportunities available to the low-income, nonminority residents of the suburban areas.
HUD should conduct a statistical analysis to test for racially discriminatory effects of current residency preferences prior to approving any new preferences. HUD should review preferences already in place, beginning with metropolitan areas characterized by high degrees of residential segregation. For new preferences, HUD should compare the percentage of eligible minority Section 8 renters in the region as a whole with the percentage of eligible minority households in the geographic area that would benefit from the residency preference. Based upon the results HUD should disapprove or invalidate any preference that would have the effect of either excluding minorities or causing them to wait longer for subsidies.
HUD should not permit the reinstatement of the local residency requirements for the Belmont program until a critical statistical analysis is conducted to establish that such a preference will no longer have a racially exclusionary effect.
3. Public Transportation
Lack of adequate public transportation to outlying communities is a formidable impediment to inner-city minorities in locating and renting housing and in finding employment in those areas. Lack of sufficient public transportation appears to be common to all three jurisdiction.
Public transportation authorities should establish a formal working relationship with the local Section 8 housing agencies to consider providing improved public transportation for minority Section 8 households seeking to move to or work in areas of lower poverty concentration. Additionally, this crucial public transportation issue must become a priority not only for the Section 8 agencies and the transportation authorities, but also for the municipalities themselves, as each has an independent obligation to overcome barriers to fair housing by virtue of their receipt of HUD block grant funding for community development programs.
4. Sharing of Rental Listings
The region’s Section 8 administrators do not share their rental housing listings. This failure is deliberate in some instances, and in other cases the omission seems to be an inadvertent failure to cooperate on a regional basis to improve housing opportunities. Regardless of its cause, not having a regionwide list makes it difficult for minority renters to find housing in areas of lower poverty concentration. Moreover, without such lists renters from urban areas are forced either to expend their limited economic resources searching for better housing in suburban areas or to forego their search altogether.
By allowing Belmont to continue to refuse access to rental lists to city subsidy holders, HUD has failed to comply with the settlement provisions of the Comer lawsuit. In fact, one subsidy holder went to Belmont four times to try to obtain a rental listing. Each time she was denied Belmont’s landlord list. To obtain the list, she was forced to apply to the U.S. district court.
The invited representatives from the Belmont Shelter Corporation and the Rental Assistance Corporation declined to appear at the meeting. Public officials who refuse to participate in factfinding meetings impede and obstruct the mission of the Committee and the Commission. To the Advisory Committee, this behavior in and of itself demonstrates a disconcerting disregard for the civil rights requirements of the Section 8 program. Moreover, the testimony of Buffalo area program subsidy holders indicate that the Buffalo area Section 8 program is in need of reform.
HUD should require Section 8 administrators within each of the three regions to:
Share their rental listings not only with each other, but also with various community organizations in the area.
Develop a single, consolidated regional rental list and make the list available through a Web site so that Section 8 subsidy holders in search of housing in low-poverty areas can visit public libraries or other community organizations to access updated information.
Show subsidy holders how to find and use the Web site as part of their regular briefing session for new program participants.
HUD should investigate and determine why Belmont has refused to provide its landlord list to families with subsidies from the RAC program. If found in violation, HUD should sanction Belmont by conditioning its continuation as a Section 8 administrator on the assurance of future compliance and that it will provide its rental list to RAC on an ongoing basis. At a minimum, HUD must monitor Belmont’s compliance with this requirement.
Since public officials who refuse to participate in factfinding meetings or share pertinent information impede the information-gathering mission of the Committee and the Commission, the Committee requests that the Commission clarify what actions might be taken against such officials. Furthermore, a request should be made to HUD to direct its officials to cooperate in the future.
5. Mobility Counseling Centers
In each of the three regions studied, racial segregation goes hand in hand with areas of high concentration of poverty. Research shows that mobility counseling centers are an effective tool in providing inclusive opportunities for minorities.
The Community Housing Center, the counseling program for Buffalo, created in 1996 by the Comer consent decree, has encountered delays in selecting its administrator and is not yet in operation.
The Rochester Housing Authority’s (RHA) mobility counseling center serves only inner-city program participants. The center does not provide counseling services to tenants who obtain their subsidies through one of the four suburban Section 8 programs, including the three administered by RHA itself, even if a tenant is currently a resident of a high-poverty area. It is crucial that all households, regardless of location, be served equally.
While Buffalo and Rochester are at least slated to have mobility centers in their regions, Syracuse is not. Although the Syracuse public housing agencies are in need of mobility centers, they have not applied for authorization and funding for such centers.
HUD should actively support enhanced mobility counseling programs in each of the three regions. The mobility counseling programs should provide the following five services:
"Motivational counseling" to provide information to Section 8 recipients on the potential benefits of living in nonpoverty-concentrated neighborhoods.
Logistic information to assist Section 8 recipients in their search for housing.
Skills development to Section 8 recipients on how to enhance their appeal to prospective landlords (e.g., appearance, interviewing skills), and to ameliorate difficulties they may encounter (e.g., poor credit history, bad landlord references).
Information on what steps to take if they believe they have encountered unlawful discrimination.
Followup support services for households in adjusting to living in new neighborhoods.
Once mobility counseling programs have been established in each of the three regions, HUD should facilitate greater communication with the counseling programs to ensure the identification and adoption of the “best practices” models.
The Rochester mobility counseling program should be broadened to provide services to all Section 8 recipients, including tenants who obtain their subsidies through the suburban area Section 8 programs, so long as those tenants currently reside in high-poverty areas and express a desire to look for housing in areas of lower poverty concentration.
Syracuse public housing agencies should take steps to establish a mobility counseling center and HUD should encourage such a center in Syracuse.
6. Security Deposits
Higher security deposit requirements under new HUD regulations for Section 8 certificate holders create a barrier to tenants looking for housing in nonpoverty areas as they are now obligated to pay landlords higher security deposits for nonpoverty housing.
Resources should be identified to assist families in meeting security deposit requirements such as a listing of local agencies that might provide assistance in the form of loans or grants.
7. Changes to Terms of Leases
The 1995 revisions of Section 8 regulations removed the indefinite term lease and the “good cause” standard for eviction after the first year, thereby making Section 8 leases more similar to other leases in the private rental market. With the agreement of the landlord, tenants now have an option to enter into leases for different terms, for example, either annual or month-to-month.
Housing Authorities should make tenants aware of their new rights to enter into definite term leases that are most beneficial for achieving mobility goals. For example, if a tenant finds an apartment in a low-poverty census tract, the tenant should be informed it is beneficial to opt for a long-term lease. However, if the tenant is unable to find housing in a lower poverty area, but still desires to do so, the HA should advise the tenant of the option of a short-term lease consisting of a month-to-month tenancy or slightly longer period. The HAs should offer short- and long-term lease forms for use by tenants.
8. Assistance With Claims of Unlawful Discrimination
As minorities move to the suburbs and low-poverty areas they are likely to encounter discrimination. Therefore, an increased need exists for those moving into such areas for advocacy services and dissemination of information addressing discrimination issues.
Section 8 administrators should establish a consistent and effective method to educate Section 8 participants on identifying unlawful discrimination and disseminate specific information describing their legal rights and recourses when they have been discriminated against unlawfully. In addition, the mobility centers should periodically conduct housing discrimination seminars for their applicants and tenants. Finally, in order to make expeditious referrals, the HA should establish and maintain a working relationship with local legal service providers, such as legal services, local bar associations, and local private fair housing enforcement agencies.
9. Persons With Disabilities
Section 8 recipients with physical or mental disabilities face challenges in locating housing that accommodates their needs.
A database should be created to identify modified rental properties in both poverty and nonpoverty areas. The database should also include those landlords willing to modify their properties. Lists of accessible options and programs that fund these modifications should be provided to landlords.
10. The Multiple Application Process
Requiring separate applications for each local program creates excess paperwork and frustrates applicants’ efforts to obtain housing subsidies. None of the regions examined has a single areawide program administrator responsible for all Section 8 subsidies allocated to the region. The Buffalo Section 8 programs have evolved into a system in which the suburban program serves primarily nonminority households while the city program serves primarily black applicants. In Rochester, although 85 percent of the area’s Section 8 subsidies are available through a single program, an applicant is still required to submit five different applications to be considered for a subsidy from all the Section 8 programs serving the Rochester area. Syracuse, like Buffalo, has two major Section 8 programs, one serving predominantly black households, the other white households.
The multiple application process should be eliminated because it is not only burdensome, but drains applicants’ resources and morale and increases the probability of bureaucratic errors. HUD should ultimately develop a computerized application procedure so that application forms can be entered directly into a local centralized network. In the interim, Section 8 administrators should voluntarily agree among themselves, or be directed by HUD, to develop one regionwide application form that can be photocopied for submission to all Section 8 programs.