Budget shortfall could require Section 8 recipients to downscale
Father George Baker had just finished high school in 1975 when he moved into apartment 9J with his parents at the Knickerbocker Plaza. The hulking housing complex had opened that year on 86th Street in an area then known as Germantown, for its abundance of German restaurants. Baker came back to the apartment after seminary in Rome, and was there in 1997 when his father died and when his mother passed two years later. "To this day everyone still knows each other, greets each other," said Father George, who is 57.
Two years ago, Baker left the apartment he shared with his parents and moved into a smaller one-bedroom in the Knickerbocker. Now, because he receives a Section 8 enhanced housing voucher, he could be forced to downscale again, as the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development evaluates his situation under new occupancy guidelines.
Budget cuts in Washington have led to a $35 million shortfall in the Section 8 housing program. To deal with the deficit, the department is moving voucher recipients into smaller units. Under the new occupancy guidelines, a family of two currently living in a two-bedroom unit will have to move to a one-bedroom unit, regardless of the family's structure. A family of three or four will be downgraded to a two-bedroom unit and a family of five or six to a three-bedroom. A person living alone, like Baker, will be moved from a one-bedroom to a studio apartment.
Enhanced Section 8 tenants they will be required to move when a unit in their building or development becomes available. Those who have regular Section 8 vouchers could see their rents increase under new standards that came with the new occupancy guidelines, and will have to choose whether to pay more in rent or request a smaller unit so their share won't increase.
Residents affected by the changes will be evaluated in October.
HPD administers 37,468 Section 8 housing vouchers in NYC, 11,578 of which are in Manhattan. The new guidelines affect the 97 developments in the Mitchell Lama housing program in NYC that are administered by the HPD. These include 10 on the Upper West Side; Goddard Riverside, Jefferson Towers, RNA House, St. Martin's Towers, Stryker's Bay, Hamilton House, Independence House, Tower West and Trinity House.
Last Tuesday, city council members Dan Garodnick and Jessica Lappin met with about 150 residents affected by the changes. Garodnick and Lappin said they would fight to keep people in their homes. "The HPD didn't do its job in my view," said Garodnick. "There was no public comment, there was no transparency, there was no ability for your legislators or your tenant leaders to comment on the proposed regulations."
Those who receive a letter saying they have to move after the October evaluation can appeal the decision to the HPD. Garodnick said both his and Lappin's office will be available to connect residents who believe they have grounds to appeal with free legal help.
An HPD spokesperson said the new occupancy guidelines and subsidy standards are an attempt to keep all Section 8 participants in the program, which has seen massive cuts at the federal level. "The bottom line is that because of sequestration, Section 8 has been greatly underfunded," said an HPD spokesperson. "We are trying to keep our existing tenants housed, but given the magnitude of cuts to our funding we've had to implement measures that require everybody to make some sacrifice so that nobody risks losing their Section 8 benefit."