PRESIDENT'S CORNER: Section 8 or No Section 8 is Not the Question

Crystal Hawkins Syska | June 16, 2021

Crystal Hawkins Syska, HGAR President 2021

On April 12, 2019 the Lawful Source of Income Non-Discrimination Act of 2019 was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Although that has been more than two years ago, it seems quite apparent that many in our industry have yet to wrap their minds around what it really means. Just the other day sitting in my office I heard a conversation between my colleague and an agent inquiring about our rental listing. The first question the agent asked was “Will your landlord accept Section 8?” I cringed, and took a deep breath. I decided then that I had to address this in an article.

Source of Income is a protected class. So, before you ask if a landlord will accept Section 8, play fill in the blank. Ideally in writing. What do I mean? On a piece of paper write the following:

Will your landlord accept______? And then fill in the blank of a protected class. Will your landlord accept a single woman? Will your landlord accept a disabled person? Will your landlord accept a Hispanic Person? Are you wigging out yet? You should be! You never should ask such a question. That’s the same way you should feel about Section 8 clients. It’s that serious.

At the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors, we understand that there is a learning curve. New laws, regulations and procedures need to be understood and implemented. To those aims we are working on bringing more training and tools for you to be effective practitioners. Right now, what needs to happen is for you to stop asking landlords or landlord’s agents if they take Section 8.

If you are like me, it can be intimidating to be involved in something if you don’t really understand it. And there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation on what Section 8 is or how it works. In 1974 Congress enacted “Section 8” of the Housing and Community Development Act to aid low to moderate income wage earners afford “decent housing.” For those who would meet the income requirements, the government pays either all or part of the applicant’s rent. Eligibility is based on the size of the family and gross income. The maximum household contribution towards rent is 40% in New York City. It’s 30% in counties like Westchester. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development set the income limits. This is updated annually.

To help paint the picture in terms of numbers, the Average Median Income (AMI) for a four-person household in Westchester County for 2021 is $127,500. Therefore, the maximum percentage of that household income that can be contributed towards rent is $3,188. So, that’s working adults making about $65,000 a year before taxes with possibly two dependents. There are some households of four people that don’t even make that much. Maybe they make a percentage of the AMI, for example, 80% or less. For some families, it is the difference between paying rent or paying for food. Or perhaps not being able to afford healthier choices when it comes to food. Due to the stigma and discrimination against such households receiving government assistance towards their rent, in New York State, they are now a protected class as this is a part of their income.

Consider this, are there signs in any store that say “Funds from COVID relief stimulus checks not accepted here.” No, right! In fact, many Americans felt that the government had to do something to help citizens financially impacted by the pandemic. How immoral would it be for stores to not allow those funds to be used to purchase groceries or anything else? There would be public outrage. So, what is the difference between that and another government program that helps those who are financially challenged or insecure to pay their rent and live in “decent housing”? Do you see the point? To do so would be infringing upon the civil rights of Americans to seek and obtain adequate housing.

Section 8 or no Section 8 is NOT the question. Be champions for Fair Housing and be current. Get out of the past and old mindsets. It’s HGAR’s goal to assist all of us in being the educated professionals the public needs us to be.

Crystal Hawkins Syska
is the 2021 President of the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors, Inc