by Christopher Boyle
BROOKHAVEN, NY – Section 8 of the Housing Act of 1937 – commonly referred to as “Section 8” – was born out of Federal housing assistance programs started during the Great Depression, and it authorizes the payment of rental housing assistance to private landlords for millions of low-income families across the country. But is it, as many government programs are, being abused?
According to Keystone Realty Homes and Estates of Northport, one of many companies which have lease agreements with the Town of Brookhaven to provide Section 8 housing for qualified Long Island residents, that is exactly what is happening. Normally, this is a mutually beneficial and equitable arrangement; however, according to a real estate broker at Keystone, often times the type of individuals that qualify for Section 8 housing don’t always make for the most desirable of tenants.
For example, Keystone owns a single-story property in Suffolk County’s Holbrook area used in conjunction with the Section 8 program, and one recent tenant, of which was evicted at the close of 2017, had been, in their description, an especially large thorn in their side, with little for Keystone to do about it.
“After numerous complaints from neighbors over a variety of issues, in addition to the fact that they were damaging and destroying the property, we asked this tenant to move out – with 30 days notice – which they refused to do,” he said. “They left their belongings in the apartment, and they refused to go. I consulted our attorney, whom said we would need to go to court and get them evicted. The tenant did show up in court to fight the eviction, if you can believe that, saying they weren’t going anywhere unless we actually paid for them to leave.”
Eventually, the property owners noted that they managed to, reluctantly, arrive at a settlement agreement of sorts with the unwanted tenant, paying her $500 in exchange for the keys to the dwelling. Once the tenant and their belongings had exited the premises, Keystone representatives went into survey the property, and to no surprise, found extensive damage that required thousands of dollars in repair, according to Keystone.
“Because the tenants didn’t pay their electric or their heating bills – keep in mind that Section 8 only pays the rent, not the utilities – the boiler was damaged and because it was the dead of winter, the pipes froze and burst,” he said. “We now have cockroaches and fleas at the property, damaged floors, damaged toilets…the whole property is damaged. It’s costing thousands of dollars to renovate and fix everything.”
However, adding insult to injury, during the period the tenant was contesting eviction, since the power bill was not being paid, the electricity was shut off, resulting in the Town of Brookhaven deeming the property “uninhabitable” refusing to pay rent to Keystone for the month of December 2017, – despite the tenant still living there – something that the realty group is currently disputing. Complicating matters, the tenants managed to turn their power back on during this period, a matter that PSEG Long Island is, according to Keystone, investigating. NewsLI.com checked with representatives from PSEG LI, however, none were able to confirm or deny the issue.
Another issue is that Keystone claims The Town of Brookhaven does not routinely or adequately screen the backgrounds of Section 8 tenants; a simple Google search revealed that their recently evicted Holbrook tenant potentially had a criminal history they were not aware of.
“That’s something that Section 8 should really look into when recommending tenants to a landlord,” he said. “They really need to do more thorough background checks and make sure that the people they’re sending to us don’t have criminal histories. There was a story on Newsday.com about this tenant, including her mugshot…she had been arrested for burglary, and we never knew.”
Understandably, Keystone did not offer the name of this tenant, and an accusation is not necessarily a conviction.
In addition, and again, this is all according to Keystone, Section 8 should be responsible in some way for providing security in the event that a tenant damages a property they are living in; currently, the onus is totally on the landlord to pay for any repairs that a Section 8 tenant may have inflicted upon their property.
In the meantime, Keystone Realty has completed repairs on the single-floor Holbrook property, and are currently in the process of showing it to prospective new Section 8 tenants. However, the quality of tenants being sent is not improving, unfortunately.
“I recently showed the property to a woman who already has Section 8 housing, but wanted to move to a nicer property. However, after taking one look at the property we had, she immediately said that it wasn’t good enough,” he said. “She told me she wanted a two-story dwelling and a formal dining area because she entertains a lot. She also bragged to me about how she only works off the books and pockets the money, despite having been ‘proudly on Section 8 for the past 17 years.’ It’s unbelievable how some people take advantage of the system like this.”
Calls to the Town of Brookhaven for comment on this story were not returned after several days of waiting.