What Cuomo’s “Women’s Equality Act” means for Housing Justice

Photo by Crain's Insider
Photo by Crain’s Insider

On January 9, Governor Cuomo gave his 2013 State of the State address. In the speech, he meditated on the hardships of the past and aspirations for the future. One important piece of his speech was when he declared, “We passed marriage equality. Let’s make history again and let’s pass a Women’s Equality Act in the State of New York.”  Then, he proceeded to outline ten-points under a theoretical Women’s Equality Law.

Of those was Number 6: “Prevent landlords from denying housing to qualified tenants based on the source of funds, Section 8 families.”

Currently, female-headed households make up 76 percent of all housing choice voucher recipients. While these vouchers have been made available to many low-income female heads-of-household, they are not always accepted.

In the state of New York, landlords are not mandated to accept federal housing vouchers. According to The Torch, the state government pushed for a  law that would mandate landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers in 2010. However, then-Governor Paterson vetoed the bill, claiming that the law would force private companies to comply with public programs.  He also asserted that implementing such a bill would place an unreasonable financial burden on the state.

While Governor Paterson’s veto did stop the passage of this state law, a local anti-discrimination law surrounding Section 8 had already passed in New York City. In 2008,  Local Law 10 made it illegal for landlords to deny tenants housing based on their source of income. (According to this law, Section 8 is a source of income.)   This law was upheld in October between Short v. Manhattan Realty Inc., where Manhattan Realty Inc. was penalized for denying Keith Short housing because he received a housing subsidy through the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA). Such cases calls into question the leverage that local laws have over state laws, as well as the fine line between free market and institutionalized discrimination.

The organizers at UHAB applaud Governor’s Cuomo’s attempt to improve access to housing through the lens of women’s rights. However, we still have some questions — “How is Cuomo defining women?” “Is he including transwomen as well as ciswomen?” “What about other representations of gender?” We hope that the passage of a Women’s Equality Act does not render some women invisible nor perpetuate discrimination against folks whose gender identity defies the male/female binary.   With the promise of Local Law 10 expanding beyond the confines of New York City, we hope for greater acceptance of housing vouchers and the end to discrimination based on gender.


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