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Report: "Savvy" Hasidic Williamsburg Families Hold A Bulk Of Section 8 Vouchers

Photograph by bitchcakesny on Flickr
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Photograph by bitchcakesny on Flickr

Families in Hasidic Williamsburg are using a large chunk of the City's limited stock of Section 8 vouchers to maintain an island of below-market rate housing within one of the hottest real estate markets in NYC, according to a report today from WNYC and the Daily News.

Federal records show that residents of Hasidic communities have historically applied for vouchers in bulk with the assistance of real estate-connected community organizations like United Jewish Organizations (UJO), and use them to live in new apartments designed to suit large Hasidic families—multi-bedrooms in low-slung buildings that don't necessitate elevators.

In February 2007 UJO helped 2,000 people apply for Section 8 in a single day (there were 200,000 applicants total during the 90-day window). And when HPD offered up 400 vouchers to Community Board 1 members after a 2008 rezoning, UJO helped 600 people apply in a matter of hours.

"These are people who are poor, but they're not beaten down. They're savvy," Queens College professor Sam Heilman told WNYC. "They've figured out a way to live with poverty, but not to be impoverished. That's the extraordinary story."

About 55% of Hasidic households in NYC live below the federal poverty line, outpacing the city average. But while many Section 8 holders struggle to find landlords who will entertain their applications—despite anti-discrimination laws in place since the late aughts [PDF]— many Hasidic families can expect to find receptive landlords in their communities.

There were 1,394 Section 8 vouchers in Williamsburg's 9 Yiddish-speaking census tracts in the year 2000. By 2014, there were 3,296 voucher holders across 12 such tracts. These voucher holders are concentrated in formerly-industrial pockets of Bed-Stuy and Williamsburg, a.k.a. New Williamsburg, where Hasidic families have been converting factory buildings into apartments since the late 1990s, raising concerns about discriminatory rental practices.

Citing local real estate attorneys and ex-community members, today's report also outlines how some powerful Hasidic landlords may also be charging tenants under the table, on top of Section 8. The vouchers cover about $1,050 per month in the neighborhood, according to the report's findings, while the maintenance cost for apartments is much steeper.

"They'll do anything, including paying extra money above Section 8," one ex-Hasidic teenager whose father is a contractor told the News. "So the landlords are asking it only because the tenants will pay it. The tenants will only pay it because they have no other option."

As property values continue to spike across NYC, Hasidic families are also taking their Section 8 vouchers to ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods upstate, where the subsidy goes farther.

While 120,000 NYC residents wait on the Section 8 waitlist, NYCHA records show that about 500 Section 8 holders have moved out of NYC, to predominantly-Hasidic villages like Monsey and Spring Village in Rockland and Monroe counties. Some families in the community follow @Sec8heimish on Twitter for regular updates on Section 8 waiting lists, and openings in New York and surrounding states.

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