Tenants Speak Out on Canceled Section 8 Vouchers

Lachonnz Morton said she has lived in the same apartment, on McClennan Street in the South Bronx, for 33 years. She moved there from Virginia when she was 22 and raised her daughter and three nieces and nephews there. Morton, who suffers from diabetes and can’t work, lives on Social Security. She says she could be evicted any day.

Morton is one of thousands of New Yorkers who are at risk of losing their homes since the city announced, late in 2009, that it would terminate its Section 8 voucher program, a federal assistance program for low-income families that subsidizes housing in the private market. On Thursday, she was one of a handful of women with similar stories, taking their plight to a public hearing with New York Senators Daniel Squadron, Pedro Espada and Tom Duane. Thursday was the third hearing since the vouchers termination was announced, but the first to involve state officials.

“My rent is $900 a month and my social security is $873,” Morton said, barely holding her tears.

Had the vouchers program not been canceled, she would have had to pay $241 and the rest would have been subsidized by the state. Though Medicaid and food stamps cover many of her other expenses, Morton said she can’t make ends meet. She went to the hearing wearing an “I Love The Bronx” T-shirt, accompanied by her elderly mother and Legal Aid lawyer.

Lachonnz Morton does not want to leave the South Bronx, her home for the past 33 years. (Speri/Bronx Ink)

Lachonnz Morton does not want to leave the South Bronx, her home for the past 33 years. (Speri/Bronx Ink)

“My rent is more than my check, what am I supposed to do?” Morton told the legislators.

Morton said she was forced to quit her job in a nursing home for health reasons. She spent years waiting for her Section 8 applications to be approved then years fighting a legal battle against her landlord, who she said refused to take the vouchers even though the law mandates it.

Already $7,000 in debt on her rent, Morton had finally won her battle with her landlord when on December 30, 2009, she received a letter from the New York City Housing Authority notifying her that money had run out and the vouchers she held in her hands were no longer valid. If the program were to start again, she could reapply, she was told.

Morton accumulated debt in the years she spent applying for the vouchers and then trying to convince her landlord to take them. She says her landlord wants her out because he could earn much more from the rent-controlled apartment if she moved out.

“I’m not denying that I owe, I just don’t have it,” she said, adding that all her savings won’t amount to more than $1,500. The vouchers would have helped turn things around, she said.  Morton is still trying to grasp the bitter irony of her situation having lost a hard-fought battle at the end.

“Do you know how long it took me?” she said.

Some 2,589 families who already held vouchers were immediately affected and many of them are at risk of joining the lines of New Yorkers without a home, speakers said.

“I know a girl in the Bronx who had just moved into an apartment and immediately had to move out,” Morton added.

More than  8,000 more families who would have been eligible for the vouchers could also lose out, as the New York City Housing Authority announced it is not processing any new applications. The vouchers were especially aimed at  helping the elderly and the disabled, and they were often the only opportunity for women victims of domestic violence to move out of abusive homes.

The state senators were sympathetic to the tenants, calling the termination of the vouchers an unacceptable shortcoming by government officials.

“The fiscal crisis is not a reason to fail people,” said Bronx-raised Senator Espada.

New York Senator Pedro Espada listen to testimonies and called for creative solutions to the housing crisis. (Speri/Bronx Ink)

New York Senator Pedro Espada (right) listened to testimony and called for "creative solutions" to the housing crisis. (Speri/Bronx Ink)

The senators questioned representatives of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) and  criticized them for what they said was a slow and inefficient response to the fiscal crisis. However, OTDA officials pointed to the city as holding the  ultimate responsibility for the outcome.

Every time we lose a housing program it’s a struggle for all of us,” OTDA Deputy Commissioner Russell Sykes said, admitting to some shortcomings on the part of his office but generally eluding questions.

“I have no idea if you care or not, all I know is what you haven’t done,” Squadron responded, calling the OTDA “evasive” in its responses and stressing that the hearing was not meant to be a stage for finger pointing between agencies but to try and work together to find a solution.

“Your government has made a promise to you and then it has taken it away,” Squadron then told the women who had shared their stories. “We will do all we can to make good on that promise.”

The program is currently $46 million short, though some suggest that resources could be more efficiently reallocated from other housing programs.

“This is not acceptable in the richest state, in the richest country in the world,” said Judith Goldiner of the Legal Aid Society, who spoke at the hearing and advised on a number of possible solutions.

Goldiner also criticized the New York City Housing Authority for its failure to intervene in the issue and invited the present elected officials to exercise their leverage at the city level.

Morton says that without Legal Aid and her family’s support, she would have been homeless. She remains skeptical as no specific promises came from the meeting.

“They are talking a good game, but I need answers,” Morton said. “They are saying they are sorry but that’s not solving my problem.”

Morton said she lives  in fear of being evicted. Though she said her family is supportive, she doesn’t want to impose on her daughter, who is married with a child.

“I’m scared to go anywhere else, this is all I know,” she says of the place she has called home for two thirds of her life. “I’m just waiting for that knock on my door.”

4 Responses to “Tenants Speak Out on Canceled Section 8 Vouchers”

  1. avatar ibtisam says:

    my story is worse than morton story i have 4 kids 7years 5years 3years 1 years i dont know what can i do with thim if everything take along time more than this i hope someone can lestin to to my story and found solution for my kids and saved my family

  2. avatar Alice Speri says:

    Dear Ibtisam,

    I am the Bronx Ink reporter who wrote the story about Ms. Morton and the cancellation of Section 8 housing vouchers. I read your comment and would love to hear more about your situation. I cannot promise that my story can help you (I am only a journalist) but if you would like to share it with me, I would be happy to listen to your concerns and perhaps write about them.

    Please let me know whether you would be interested – you can send me your phone number at as3719@columbia.edu and I will reach out to you as soon as possible.

    Thanks for your comment,

  3. avatar Martin says:

    Disabled with diabetes? Get a job. Diabetes is NOT a disability. This is the problem with our country, we breed this sort of behavior – we encourage people to take advantage of the system.

  4. avatar Josh says:

    I agree with Martin – poverty breeds poverty.


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