A coalition of elected officials, community members and tenants from across the city met at City Hall last week to protest cutbacks in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program. Members of the coalition say that cutbacks will cause hardships for and maybe displacement of the elderly, medically challenged and single-parent tenants of the city’s Section 8 program.

Sources close to the AmNews say that the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is targeting tenants who are deemed “over-housed” or living in an apartment HPD says has more rooms than the tenant needs. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer sent a letter that was signed by 17 elected officials asking for a moratorium on downsizing to new HPD Commissioner Vicki Been on Feb. 21. No response has been received.

Council Member Ben Kallos said that since July 15, 2013, HPD has mandated that thousands of previously properly housed Section 8 voucher tenants be suddenly declared as over-housed and given 30 days to vacate their homes. A third of these residents are seniors, and more than 40 percent are disabled. 

“Imagine receiving a letter giving you 30 days to vacate your home and leave your memories behind you,” said Kallos. “Gilda Liebner, an 86-year-old widow living in my district at Knickerbocker Plaza, was upgraded to a one-bedroom from a studio apartment after she had open heart surgery. She says she cannot imagine returning to a smaller space and dreads having to open up a sofa bed each night.

Kallos went on to say that this is just one story among many. Landlords of enhanced Section 8 tenants received billions in federal, state and city subsidies and tax abatements, along with a guaranteed return on investments of 6 percent to 7.5 percent over the past three decades. HPD must force concessions from landlords, not tenants.

HPD officials said that reducing the size of individual vouchers would deter the agency from cutting entire families from the program. “Our mission is to create and preserve affordable housing and to protect our city’s tenants. We are very aware of the effects of these federal budget cuts on the most vulnerable among us,” an38 HPD official said in a statement. “We understand that these new changes will likely be difficult for the affected household, but it enables us to stretch our remaining Section 8 funding as far as possible. Pulling vouchers away from families is a step that we are resolute in working to prevent, and so far we haven’t had to do it.” 

The recently approved two-year federal budget includes $17.4 billion for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, $400 million of which will go to HPD. HPD said that they still fell short by $35 million.