New York City

Housing policy changes will open up access to undocumented New Yorkers

August 23, 2019 Kelly Mena
Weeksville’s got lots of beautiful old housing stock. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

A housing policy change announced this week aims to increase access to the city’s affordable housing lottery and make it easier for undocumented immigrants to qualify.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development announced on Wednesday major changes to the city’s affordable housing lottery application that eliminate credit checks and other barriers.

Applicants now need only provide 12 months of positive rent payment history rather than a landlord-initiated credit check. Potential tenants can also apply for affordable housing without providing a Social Security Number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number for every adult in the household, according to the new policy.

Previous policy guidelines made it difficult for those with no proof of a good credit history or those lacking a social security number to apply for the housing lottery, disproportionately affecting immigrants and communities of color.

“For too long, families without access to credit have faced barriers to the affordable housing they need. By allowing New Yorkers to submit rental history instead of credit checks, we are creating a fairer system for all New Yorkers,” the mayor said in a public statement.

The new application guidelines also include lower credit check fees in conjunction with the newly passed state rent laws. Going forward, fees will be set at $20 per application with an option to avoid fees all together. The revisions will take effect immediately.

The city has also broadened the range of unit sizes for which households can qualify by increasing the permitted number of occupants per unit and removing the assumption that married or similarly committed couples share a bedroom, according to the rule changes.

Immigrant and underserved communities of color sometimes have multi-generational family units that aren’t necessarily comprised of married individuals or direct familial bonds. Allowing for an expanded unit size will give non-traditional families an opportunity to qualify for the units.

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The policy changes were hailed by immigrant and housing advocacy groups as a step toward protecting vulnerable communities across the borough.

New York City has nearly 500,000 undocumented residents, with 127,000 residing in Brooklyn, according to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

The city’s housing agency currently has 19 active affordable housing lotteries, 13 of them in Brooklyn.

“Now, we are one step closer to truly becoming a Sanctuary City for all,” said Ana Nunez, constituent services specialist at Churches United For Fair Housing. “Documented or undocumented, immigrants work, pay taxes, send their children to school, and participate in the community, and deserve to fully participate in the city’s affordable housing initiative like everyone else.”

Meanwhile, other local organizations are hoping the new reforms will lead to greater fundamental changes to an outdated system.

“Eliminating these discriminatory barriers is a big step forward in reforming the lotteries … however, the details matter,” said Shekar Krishnan, Attorney at Communities Resist. “Rental history requirements must accommodate for the fact that low-income tenants are already severely rent-burdened and face extraordinary difficulties in paying their monthly rent. More fundamentally, we need systemic changes to our housing policies so that units are truly affordable and do not have the long waiting lists that still remain in place.”

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