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Meet the Team Behind: Unlock NYC

Unlock NYC is on a mission to protect the rights of those facing housing discrimination. Created by tenants and for tenants, Unlock NYC advocates for both individual cases and systemic changes. Unlock NYC’s various tools help renters avoid discrimination in all its forms, and their vast research demonstrates the prevalence of this issue in New York City. Learn more here

What is the mission of Unlock NYC?


Unlock NYC is a tech nonprofit majority-led by women of color who have experienced housing discrimination because they use government assistance to help pay the rent. Our free mobile chatbot allows prospective tenants to easily record phone calls and create a paper trail when landlords illegally turn them away. We connect our users to government agencies and other resources so they can exercise their rights and find housing.


What is “source of income discrimination”? 


In NYC, rental assistance vouchers are lifelines for thousands of families, creating pathways from homelessness to housing. However, tenants with vouchers often face housing discrimination by landlords and brokers. These illegal practices perpetuate homelessness, deepen residential segregation, and unjustly exclude marginalized families from areas of high economic opportunity. Sometimes called a “modern-day form of redlining", SOI discrimination hinders upward mobility and reinforces disparities in housing, employment, and educational opportunities.


What kind of discrimination do voucher holders face? 


We’ve seen it all – landlords big and small alike, prewar co-ops and shiny glass towers. Whether a landlord holds classist and racist views about what type of tenants voucher holders will be, or they just don’t want to deal with city bureaucracy, it’s against the law and families suffer as a direct result. All voucher holders are a protected class in New York. Almost all landlords and units in NYC must treat vouchers as a valid source of income. However, landlords and brokers use both direct and indirect tactics to keep voucher holders out of their buildings.


Can you tell me about your data-driven approach? 


Unlock NYC’s crowdsourced database, dating back to 2018, has uncovered SOI discrimination in all five boroughs and every single City Council district. Our Mapping SOI Discrimination tool demonstrates the prevalence of SOI allegations and specific tactics by district. Advocates, attorneys, and cities use our data to understand trends, develop stronger fair housing policies, and open more doors for the millions of low-income and homeless American households who use rental assistance programs.

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