Protesters stood in front of the offices of the real estate firm DeFalco Realty in Bay Ridge on the morning of Aug. 5, accusing the company of discriminating against potential tenants based on their source of income
Amid the current a hectic environment in New York City’s housing market, where many locals are at risk of losing their homes because of rising rent prices, protestors say the realty firm ignores applicants who would be paying with rental assistance and voucher programs like CityFHEPS.
Multiple rejections from DeFalco Realty
Among protesters, who were led by members of housing and homelessness advocacy groups VOCAL-NY and UnlockNYC, was Douglas Powell, a voucher recipient with $2,218 in monthly rental aid who has been living at a homeless shelter in Staten Island for three years and has been consistently trying to rent an apartment in Brooklyn. Powell has applied to over 20 apartments through different real state companies with no results and has been denied DeFalco’s services three times as soon as he mentions vouchers, he said.
“They are not supposed to say, but after calling so much they once told me on the phone ‘We don’t accept vouchers,’” Powell said. “As soon as I say vouchers, I don’t hear from them no more.”
On his phone, Powell has a long list of texts he has sent to realtors who are quick to respond but then fade away at the mention of vouchers.
Under local, state and federal law, it is illegal for landlords, owners, and real estate brokers to refuse to rent to tenants seeking to pay for housing with housing assistance vouchers, subsidies, or other forms of public assistance.
Joe Loonam, a campaign coordinator with UnlockNYC, and Powell recently ran an experiment to evidence DeFalco’s unlawful practices. They both applied to rent an apartment at the same time. At the mention of vouchers, Powell was immediately ignored, while Loonam’s was approved.
“It’s a completely different kind of tone and conversation with me,” Loonam said.
When reached by phone, DeFalco staff refused to comment. On the window of their office hangs a statement that reads “Equal housing opportunities. We do business in accordance with the Federal Fair Housing Law.”
‘Hold them accountable:’ addressing income discrimination
The city’s Commission on Human Rights has resolved over 350 cases of source of income discrimination in the last few years, according to their website, and has successfully obtained more than $100,000 in damages and penalties from discriminatory companies and landlords. Fines of up to $20,00 have been issued against realty companies for denying vouchers as forms of rent payment. Filing a complaint of discrimination and receiving services from the commission is free.
“If you believe that no one should be homeless, if you believe that 100 thousand children should not go to school from a shelter, you need to be where the people are,” said VOCAL-NY organizer Celina Trowell as she addressed DeFalco at the protest. The advocacy group will hold another protest to call for the city’s support to eradicate housing discrimination at the steps of the City Hall in Manhattan on Aug. 11 at 11 am.
“You need to hold them accountable,” Trowell said. “They are part of the problem.”