Homeless advocates demand mayor restore human rights commission funding

Homeless advocates rallied on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday.

Nathylin Flowers Adesegun has been living in a homeless shelter for two years despite having secured a rental assistance voucher from the city two years ago to help pay rent.

The problem? Prospective landlords refuse to accept her Living in Communities (LINC) voucher, according to Adesegun, even though it’s illegal to do so.

“These rental assistance programs are supposed to help us pay the rent,” Adesegun said while standing on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday. “Instead, they’ve become tickets to humiliation and disappointment.”

Adesegun and other advocates say housing discrimination based on a person’s source of income is a pervasive problem in the city, yet Mayor Bill de Blasio recently cut funding to the agency with the power to hold landlords accountable.

The New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) was hit with a $1.7 million funding cut in the mayor’s 2019 fiscal budget, and advocates argue the decrease will make the agency less effective.

A spokesman for the mayor’s office, however, said the funding decrease would not impact the agency’s ability to defend homeless New Yorkers against housing discrimination, and pointed to a 260 percent growth in the NYCCHR’s budget since de Blasio took office in 2014. A request for comment from the NYCCHR was directed to the mayor’s office.

Armed with signs that read, “We can pay rent but de Blasio is keeping us homeless” and “Housing not shelter,” dozens of advocates who rallied outside City Hall on Wednesday insisted that, with 63,000 people in the shelter system, NYCCHR needs more staffing to handle legal work and investigations.

Adesegun, who is also a member of VOCAL-NY, claimed the NYCCHR funding cut shows the de Blasio administration’s approach to solving homelessness is disjointed and a truly comprehensive plan would do more to stem the source of income discrimination.

“When I first heard about LINC, I thought I had found my pathway back to housing and stability,” she said. “I was wrong. Over and over again, landlords refuse to take my voucher.”

Jermain Abdullah, a member of Picture the Homeless, suggested that if the city came up with one universal voucher that covers all of the rental assistance programs — LINC, Special Exit and Prevention Supplement, HIV/AIDS Services Administration subsidies, Family Eviction Prevention Subsidy and Section 8 — then maybe landlords would be more open to accepting them.

“There are too many different vouchers, so landlords are skeptical about taking them,” he added.

City Councilman Steve Levin asserted that cutting NYCCHR funding would be a “huge step backwards.”

“If these cuts go through, New York City is waving a white flag and letting landlords know they can get away with blatant discrimination,” Levin said.

A letter signed by 22 city organizations was sent to the mayor’s office on Monday, demanding that de Blasio restore NYCCHR funding.

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