Brooklynite Douglas Powell has a voucher to pay a guaranteed $2,218 per month to a landlord in Brooklyn that will take him. He’s been trying to move out of a homeless shelter on Staten Island for three years.

But realtors like Robert DeFalco Realty won’t rent to him—saying they don’t take housing vouchers—he alleged at a rally outside the realtor’s Brooklyn office in Bay Ridge Friday.

In New York, it is illegal for someone to deny you housing based on the type of income you receive, whether it is from Section 8, Social Security or any other program.

Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader

“They wasn’t supposed to tell me, but they said they don’t accept vouchers,” Powell said at the rally, referring to a conversation he had with a DeFalco representative on Aug. 1. “We are here because we need help.”

More than a dozen protestors rallied outside the office, with others testifying that they were also told by Robert DeFalco representatives that the realtor does not accept housing program vouchers. No one was inside the office at the time, and it appeared to be closed.

During the rally, a man in a black Nissan Altima stopped his car directly by the protestors and filmed them from his vehicle for several minutes, before driving away.

Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader

Powell has a CityFHEPs voucher for rental assistance and said he has applied for and been denied three apartments through DeFalco.

“Once you mention the voucher they say, ‘Oh we gotta get back to you, we gotta check with the landlord,’ It’s all a bunch of garbage. Just come out and say we don’t accept them, you’re too Black, just be real with it.”

Powell is also a leader of the Homeless Outreach team for VOCAL-NY, a co-organizer of Friday’s protest with Neighbors Together and UnlockNYC. He said a white colleague applied at the same time to the same apartment—as a test—and was accepted.

Douglas Powell. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader

“It’s a completely different kind of tone and conversation with me,” the VOCAL-NY colleague Joe Loonam said. He added that while DeFalco was not the only realtor denying vouchers, they still needed to be held to account.

“They would say we’re not doing anything differently than other brokers, and how we respond to that is, it’s still illegal and it’s still wrong.”

Staten Island grandmother Asia Betancourt said she also dealt with Robert DeFalco Realty on at least three different occasions. Betancourt is a HASA client, a New York City program that assists individuals living with AIDS or HIV illness, including with rental assistance.

However, whenever she applied for a property through Robert DeFalco, she said she was told over the phone that the realtor does not accept programs, including from HASA.

Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader

“They have a woman who comes on the phone and says we do not accept programs,” Betancourt said. When Betancourt pointed out that the practice is illegal, she said the company didn’t budge.

“They’re like, well there’s nothing we can do, if people don’t want to rent to people in programs. The only guaranteed money right now is program money. I really don’t understand.”

Betancourt said she has also been told by realtors that programs only pay half of the realtor’s fee. However, Betancourt said that in her case, you can submit a case to have the realtor’s fee paid by the program, although it could come at the cost of your furniture voucher. “You have to choose.”

When reached by telephone at the Robert DeFalco Bay Ridge office Monday, a woman said, “No comment,” and hung up. The Staten Island and Brooklyn offices did not respond to emails requesting comment. An agent reached over the weekend did not respond after BK Reader identified itself.

VOCAL-NY leader Milton Perez. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader

VOCAL-NY leader Milton Perez said the problem of brokers and landlords discriminating against those using housing vouchers was widespread, and had been going on for years. The solution was not as easy as avoiding one particular company that was known for income source discrimination.

“The housing voucher is now $2,200,” he said. “It’s guaranteed money from the city, so what is the problem?”

On April 12, 2019, New York State amended the New York State Human Rights Law to protect
all New Yorkers from discrimination based on lawful source of income.

This law applies to nearly all types of housing in New York State, with the exception of one- or two- family homes occupied by the landlord, single-sex housing and housing solely for seniors.

Anyone attempting to rent or sell a housing unit can be accountable for discrimination.

Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader

Discrimination can be as overt as saying housing vouchers are not accepted, or as subtle as a broker steering a potential tenant to less desirable apartments upon learning that the tenant intends to pay with a rental assistance voucher.

The New York State Attorney General’s Office investigates and enforces lawful source of income protections. If you believe that you have been discriminated against based on lawful source of income, you can file a complaint online here.

In March this year, 88 owners and brokers in the city were hit with a lawsuit alleging they repeatedly rejected tenants with Section 8 vouchers.

The lawsuit, which did not name DeFalco as a defendant, ended in a cooperation agreement requiring Compass, Inc and 22 other NYC realty companies to commit to non-discrimination policies and give its agents higher commissions for renting to those with housing vouchers.

Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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  1. I think landlords should be free to rent to whomever they want, and the source of income is absolutely going to be a factor. Always. Homeowners do not want to deal with the government.

    Flipping this into a racial issue is ridiculous. Plenty of black homeowners don’t want to accept these programs either.

    1. That’s a common misconception amongst old world landlords; that it’s their property and they can do anything they want. Consistently breaking the law can result in hefty fines up to 10K in housing court and way more in Supreme Court as a regular lawsuit, and that doesn’t even take into account AG involvement once they put a spotlight on you. Any property over a 3 family (non owner occupied) is subject to the new rental laws of 2019 which have now been expanded to also include non stabilized units. Educate yourself before you get into real legal trouble. It’s NYC, not Florida.

  2. Housing vouchers are not guaranteed rent . Tenants have to pay 30% of their income towards the rent and re certify yearly with the city . I’ve rented to a lot of city program tenants and a lot of them lately refuse to pay their portion of the rent do not always re certify on time , several have destroyed the Apts causing havoc with the other tenants a lot have mental issues and substance abuse issues when we call their case workers for help they tell us they can not discuss their clients with us and if we have a problem we should file an eviction case which is expensive and can’t even get a court date . So no it is not guaranteed money and the city should be ashamed at they way they are treating landlords who scraped to save and invest in real estate to be forced to house mental I’ll and drug attics who damage their properties and no relief for them the city gets millions on these peoples behalf but the owners are left with tens of thousands In damages

    1. You’re confusing 2 different issues
      If they happen to be drug addicts and mentally ill I don’t think you are obligated to rent to them, but check.

  3. I mean of all places why crash in Bay Ridge? Why not Park slope, Brooklyn heights, midtown -downtown manhattan, LIC?, is this voucher only limited to Bay ridge?

  4. When I was in the shelter until August last year looking for housing I too had the same problem… The apartment building I now live in is very poor condition, and my fear is I will not be able to get a better place due to the existing housing voucher discrimination… Therefore I feel that I have no other choice than to live in sub quality conditions.

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