Landlord Watch is a small team building digital tools to help New Yorkers learn about housing rights and report housing discrimination.
For homeless New Yorkers and tenants with vouchers, the impacts of COVID-19 have already been devastating. There are currently tens of thousands of people trying to use housing vouchers to get out of dangerously dense shelters in the city. But with government agencies shut down - and landlords limited to showing apartments virtually (if at all) - housing searches have been stalled indefinitely. This means that thousands will stay in shelter instead of safe housing. The breakdown in the housing search process also means that many people do not know where to turn and cannot get the trustworthy information they need to plan their next steps.
Our COVID-19 FAQ is a channel for gathering intel from the communities we aim to serve, ultimately ground-truthing the often incomplete information on governmental websites. Within 4 days of launching the online FAQ, we had over 300 users visit the page, and we are daily fielding questions that come in from the website and a simple text hotline. We speak with people who have been let down by shuttered agencies, find answers to their questions, and connect them to resources. Our users have told us that it helps just to know that someone cares enough about them, and their situation, to pick up the phone.
We have a plan to expand our audience via social media, local organizations, and through mutual aid networks. We will then create a digital story bank and map documenting the experiences of homeless New Yorkers impacted by COVID-19. Storytelling here is not mere documentation, but rather an organizing strategy to build political pressure and win demands that protect the survival of homeless New Yorkers.
Landlord Watch focused their COVID-19 rapid response on creating an FAQ page for those in the middle of searching for housing with vouchers like Section 8, at https://landlordwatch.nyc/covid19. They also joined a coalition of advocacy groups pushing for immediate housing for NYC’s homeless and worked closely with this group to create https://homelesscantstayhome.org. Please visit this website to learn how you can contribute and act.
Funded by New York City, NY (April 2020)