Housing Vouchers to Be Reinstated Following Settlement With Social Services (2024)

Potentially hundreds of people whose housing vouchers were cut off due to errors by the city will be eligible for the help again following a settlement this week.

The city’s Department of Social Services and the Legal Aid Society, the public defender group, settled the suit filed last April in the Manhattan Supreme Court on Wednesday, allowing the process of reinstating eligible people to receive rent vouchers from two common benefits programs. The process will begin over the next few months.

The judge in the case granted a motion to allow the case to be a class-action lawsuit, with a fairness hearing — which will determine if the proposal is fair and adequate — scheduled for June 20.

The settlement concerns two voucher programs: Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement, or FHEPS, and City Fighting Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement, or CityFHEPS.

Legal Aid attorneys discovered the issue in the second half of 2022 after the eviction moratorium ended and they started seeing people return to Housing Court, according to staff attorney Emily Lundgren. Some people received surprise eviction notices after finding out they were unexpectedly booted off the city’s voucher list, despite being eligible for recertification.

“They were winding up in Housing Court for eviction for non-payment of rent, which was horrifying — the whole purpose of the vouchers is to keep people housed,” Lundgren told THE CITY.

The city Human Resources Administration, which DSS oversees, also removed an unknown number of people from receiving the vouchers due to a system error on its computer program during the re-enrollment process, according to the suit.

The problem was compounded by inaction from the agencies that are supposed to help, as THE CITY reported last winter.

“These are households who already in many instances struggled with housing instability, had been homeless, were at risk for homelessness — and now they’re back in the same place,” Lundgren added.

“And nobody was able to help them, they were being sent back and forth between HRA offices and Homebases [eviction-prevention centers].”

Lundgren said they don’t know exactly how many people had their vouchers unfairly removed, but that it could be thousands of people.

Neha Sharma, a spokesperson for DSS, emphasized that “a record number of New Yorkers” used CityFHEPS last year to find permanent housing.

“As we build on this important progress, we continue to closely monitor any anomalous issues with processing StateFHEPS and CityFHEPS cases. This settlement is a reflection of our commitment to working collaboratively with key stakeholders to find ways to reduce unfortunate instances of human error when processing FHEPS cases and strengthen supports for clients looking to renew CityFHEPS,” she said.

New Yorkers who receive city and state-issued housing rent vouchers go through an annual renewal process to remain eligible, in which some people were getting unfairly booted, Lundgren said.

Under the settlement, the city will reevaluate former CityFHEPS and StateFHEPS clients who are no longer receiving vouchers to see if they are eligible again. HRA is also required to change its online case management system to include an on-screen alert during the recertification process — to be called a “FHEPS Pop-up Window” — to “avoid erroneous terminations” of benefits during recertification, the settlement reads.

The updated program will notify a city caseworker that the household previously received FHEPS subsidies and will ask them to confirm if they would like to continue using the voucher.

The city will also be required to create retroactive reports covering two time periods between 2021 and 2023 to show the number of people terminated from the voucher program.

The case is separate from another housing voucher lawsuit filed last month by Legal Aid and the City Council against Mayor Eric Adams and his administration for not complying with new laws to expand the eligibility for CityFHEPS.

The Adams administration has said the legislation passed by the Council in 2023 — which allows more people to apply for vouchers — would be too costly to the city. But advocates and the Council say it will help keep people out of shelters amid an affordable housing crisis in New York City.

Michael Toliver, 57, was one of five plaintiffs in the suit now being settled. He started receiving housing vouchers before the pandemic, a process he described as a “nothing short of a miracle.”

“It’s life changing and it’s a beautiful experience,” he told THE CITY. “When you do get it you have to look towards the heavens and be eternally grateful.”

But that experience turned into hell when the program “cut me off without incident,” he said — and despite visiting city offices 38 times in one month looking for help, he couldn’t find any.

He said he had to cut back on everything else in his life to be able to maintain the rent on his Manhattan apartment, falling behind on his electric and gas bill and sometimes skipping meals.

Toliver found another miracle in Legal Aid’s lawsuit, he said, and thanks to the settlement he’ll receive the voucher again and will also be paid back the money the voucher would have covered over the months he was illegally removed.

“Put my name in bold letters in the caption of that lawsuit,” he said he told Legal Aid when he was asked to be a plaintiff.

“I own it and I’m proud of it and do it — something has to change with the system.”

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Housing Vouchers to Be Reinstated Following Settlement With Social Services (2024)


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