If you think welfare benefits such as Section 8 housing are used mostly by Black people in New York City, you would be wrong. An ultra-orthodox Jewish community in the South Williamsburg section of New York has been the beneficiary of a substantial number of Section 8 vouchers. Shockingly, the neighborhood is considered wealthy and the property in the area highly valuable. Despite this, the city issued 3,296 housing vouchers geared specifically for the Hasidic community.
Real estate development in this area for Hasidic Jews started in the 1990s with developers renovating warehouse and buildings. The renovated buildings were made into residential apartments, which were only marketed and advertised to the Hasidic community. The ads for the apartments were printed in Yiddish and posted only in Yiddish newspapers. Yiddish is only spoken by members of the Hasidic community, and advertising the available government-subsidized apartments in this language was deemed a violation of the Fair Housing Act standards. According to the NY Daily News, people holding vouchers for these prized apartments would pay additional money under the table to the landlords in a scheme that led to defrauding the Section 8 program. In 2012, a well-known rabbi and his brother were charged with defrauding the program of $220,000 in a time period that spanned 15 years.
New York City has the highest number of Section 8 vouchers in the country with 123,000 vouchers issued. But the Jewish community of South Williamsburg has a 30 percent concentration of Section 8 residents. The community is home to wealthy residents who work in diamond trading, real estate and the stock market as well as poorer residents who are mostly religious scholars. The number of tenants on Section 8 has grown over the years and led to the expansion of the community into an area that was normally Black or Latino in the past. However, the program has defenders who believe Section 8 vouchers are needed in the neighborhood because real estate prices are so high and many can’t afford to live in the tight-knit Hasidic community.