In a major policy change intended to give individuals with checkered credit histories and undocumented residents greater access to affordable housing, the de Blasio administration on Wednesday said it would no longer mandate a credit check or require applicants to submit their social security or tax identification numbers for housing lotteries.
Instead of submitting to a landlord-initiated credit check, those applying to the city's affordable housing lotteries can provide 12 months of positive rent payment history. The new rules will also allow more occupants per affordable unit, effectively widening the range of apartments to which New Yorkers can apply.
“For too long, families without access to credit have faced barriers to the affordable housing they need,” said Mayor de Blasio, in a statement. “By allowing New Yorkers to submit rental history instead of credit checks, we are creating a fairer system for all New Yorkers.”
Fair housing advocates have long argued that the city’s affordable housing process puts an unfair burden on lower-income applicants, who are often hampered by poor credit ratings. This is not the first time the city has changed its policies regarding credit histories. In 2018, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which administers the housing lotteries, said that landlords could not use poor credit scores as the sole reason to disqualify an applicant.
In the past, applicants with a FICO credit score of 580 could be rejected outright.
"Everything that liberalizes the admissions policies to [affordable] buildings is a good thing," said Ed Josephson, director of litigation and housing at Legal Services NYC.
He said low-income tenants who are stretched thin frequently elect to prioritize making payments on rent over credit cards.
Ana Nunez, who works at Churches United For Fair Housing, said her organization has been fighting for years to provide immigrants with more affordable housing opportunities. “For a very long time they have been shut out of the process and, in a way, intimidated too,” she said.
Under the previous rules, applicants did not have to provide social security or tax identification numbers during the initial application but were required to show the identification in the event they were selected for an interview.
Nunez said immigrants who did not have the required identification were barred from applying, while some who did were afraid to enter themselves because they worried they might be tracked.
Although the new rules should help many vulnerable New Yorkers, Josephson said he was still concerned that the city's lottery process still fails to recognize that many people applying to affordable housing do so because they cannot afford the market rents. "To screen them out because they have trouble paying their current rent defeats the whole purpose," he said.
Legal Services has urged the city and landlords to look at applicants' future ability to pay as well as to include any housing vouchers as part of their income.
Beatriz Guzmán, who lives in an affordable unit at Essex Crossing, a mega development on the Lower East Side, applied three times to the city's affordable housing lottery process before she finally secured a unit. One of the reasons she was denied was because of poor credit history, which resulted largely from a disability that made her unable to work.
"I couldn't help having my credit go down the drain," she said. "There are so many barriers baked into the process."
She added: "My mother used to say if you don’t have good credit, you don’t have a life. That resonates with me."