section-8-housing-5582811Three years ago, a bill that would have forced landlords throughout New York State to accept recipients of federal Section 8 rent vouchers was vetoed by then-Governor David Paterson on the grounds that it would have placed an onerous regulatory burden on landlords and cost the state millions to enforce. However, in his State of the State message last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo indicated he’ll revive the idea as part of his own legislative program.

Cuomo’s 10-point “Women’s Equality Agenda” includes the following passage, under the heading “Stop Source of Income Discrimination”:

Female-headed households account for 76 percent of all housing choice vouchers issued, including Section 8 vouchers. Many households suffer discrimination by landlords who are unwilling to rent to voucher holders.

For housing vouchers to be meaningful, enough units must be made available for tenants. Providing this protection is invaluable in maximizing a voucher family’s ability to secure safe and decent housing.

Governor Cuomo will propose amending the Human Rights Law to prohibit landlords from discriminating against tenants based on lawful sources of income.

As noted in a December 2009 legal analysis at this realtors’ site, Congress intended participation in the Section 8 program, enacted in 1976, to be voluntary for landlords. Courts are divided on whether the federal law can be expanded or overridden by local laws mandating acceptance of Section 8 vouchers. The New York City Council passed such a law in 2008, overriding the veto of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. While the law was “well-intentioned,” Bloomberg said, it “would force private landlords to participate in a public program even at a cost to their bottom lines and has the potential to result in increased rents in our most affordable housing stock.”

Bloomberg added that “the onus should be on the government to make the [Section 8] program more attractive for private sector participation, not the other way around.”

The issue more recently has been a focus of controversy in Westchester County. A federal judge is trying to force County Executive Rob Astorino to “promote” a local Section 8 anti-discrimination law, even though Westchester is otherwise complying with the terms of a settlement with the federal government requiring construction of 750 units of subsidized affordable housing over a seven-year period.

In 2010, the state Legislature passed a state law (A.10689-a) that would have made it illegal for landlords to discriminate against potential tenants based on their source of income, including Section 8. In rejecting the measure (Veto 6766 of 2010), Paterson cited “the heavy burden it would place on small New York property owners at a time when they are struggling to pay theirmortgages and maintain their homes.” He added:

When a landlord accepts a Section 8 voucher, the unit is taken off the market whileinspections and paperwork are completed. Rent is not collected on the unit during this time, which can total three months or more. In addition, housing units are subject to annual inspections and Section 8 payments are suspended until violations are rectified. A small landlord may have no funds to  pay for repairs while payments arebeing withheld. Even when violations are the result of a tenant’s actions and no fault of the landlord, landlords are not allowed to bring non-payment cases to Housing Court for the Section 8 portion of the rent.

As for the state financial impact, Paterson said the bill could “substantially increase the caseload of the Division of Human Rights, requiring a substantial commitment of new resources and the hiring of additional staff.” Based on New York City’s experience, Paterson said the resulting upsurge in complaints to the state Division for Human Rights could cost the state $2.7 million.

It’s not clear whether Cuomo intends to introduce a bill that would exempt small landlords. Even if he does, however, the law could be counterproductive in cities struggling to preserve marginally middle-class neighborhoods.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

You may also like

The Public Can Now See the Vaccine Task Force Recommendations that the Cuomo Administration Held Back

Even as Governor Cuomo touted vaccine approvals by a state-appointed panel of experts, his office was withholding the group's detailed findings from public view. The governor's six- Read More

New York’s Medicaid and Public Health Crises Get Short Shrift in the New State Budget

In spite of an ongoing pandemic and spiraling Medicaid costs, New York's health-care system received surprisingly little attention in the new state budget. On issue after issue, law Read More

Empire State’s new budget is a bridge to nowhere

Looking ahead to an uncertain post-pandemic recovery, New York’s newly enacted state budget for fiscal year 2022 raises spending by staggering amounts that—barring an unlikely rapid return to peak 2019 economic activity in New York City—can't possibly be sustained for more than a few years. The budget is a mid-2020s fiscal disaster in the making: an incomplete bridge over a deepening river of red ink. Read More

Lawmakers Mull Medicaid Proposals That Would Speed New York Toward a Fiscal Cliff

As a budget deal nears in Albany, reining in spiraling Medicaid costs seems to be the last thing on anyone's mind. Governor Cuomo is advancing only Read More

Tax hike and huge spending increase seem likely in next NY budget

New York state today began its 2022 fiscal year without an adopted budget—which, in itself, is not a big deal. The state government can continue to pay bills and employee salaries next week if either final appropriations Read More

Cuomo Pushes Budget Change Sought by Hospital Group Implicated in Pandemic Scandals

A hospital lobbying group at the heart of scandals plaguing the Cuomo administration is again getting the governor's help in pushing a late change to the state budget. Aides to Gove Read More

The Cuomo Administration Is Withholding Pandemic-Related Records Again

In an echo of the Cuomo administration's stonewalling on nursing home data, the governor's office has for a third time delayed releasing records of its vaccine review panel, this time until mid-April. Read More

Cuomo’s Schedules for the Peak of New York’s Pandemic Show Limited Contact with Outside Experts

As New York's coronavirus pandemic exploded last spring, Governor Cuomo's circle of regular contacts dwindled to a handful of close advisers, according to his recently released official schedules for March and April. Read More


Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.


Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130


The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.

Empire Center Logo "...the Empire Center is the think tank that spent months trying to pry Covid data out of Mr. Cuomo's government, which offered a series of unbelievable excuses for its refusal to disclose...five months after it (the Empire Center) sued, Team Cuomo finally started coughing up some of the records." -Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2021