Coalition for the Homeless Testifies on Urgent Need for State to Allow New Rental Assistance Voucher

The Coalition for the Homeless testified today before the City Council in support of a resolution that calls on State officials to remove budget restrictions preventing New York City from creating a new rent subsidy program — a crucial part of any comprehensive plan to reduce record homelessness.

“Tackling the homeless crisis will take every tool the City has, but right now there are a few lines of State budget language that make a new rent subsidy program impossible,” said Patrick Markee, Senior Policy Analyst, who delivered today’s testimony. “Removing that restrictive language is the first step to reducing record homelessness, and there is no reason State officials cannot do so in this year’s budget.”

The testimony is as follows:

Proposed Resolution No. 123-A

We support Proposed Resolution No. 123-A, which calls for changes in State budget language that currently restricts the use of State funds to finance a much-needed rent subsidy program to help homeless families and children move from the shelter system to permanent housing.

Background: New York City’s Unprecedented Family Homelessness Crisis

As we recently testified, and the Coalition’s recent “State of the Homeless 2014” report (see copy attached) documented, the current City Administration has inherited an unprecedented homelessness crisis. There are currently more than 53,600 homeless New Yorkers sleeping in the municipal homeless shelter system each night, including more than 12,700 families and well over 22,700 children. (Please see charts attached to this testimony.) These are the highest numbers since the City began keeping records of the homeless population three decades ago and the highest since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Homeless families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. While the overall homeless shelter population has increased by more than 71 percent since 2002, the number of homeless families has risen by 83 percent. Families now constitute nearly four-fifths (79 percent) of the NYC homeless shelter population, compared to two-thirds in the 1980s.

There are two major causes of the current family homelessness crisis. First, the housing affordability gap in New York City has widened significantly in recent years. This is in part due to the lingering effects of the economic downturn and high unemployment, and in part due to soaring rental housing costs. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, between 2007 and 2011 the median monthly apartment gross rent citywide increased by 8.5 percent while median household income decreased by 6.8 percent.

The second major factor responsible for the all-time record NYC homelessness is the previous Administration’s series of failed policies. In 2005 the previous administration eliminated priority use of Federal housing programs (public housing and Section 8 vouchers) for homeless children and families, followed by the replacement of those proven and successful Federal programs with wasteful and ineffective time-limited rent subsidy programs (Housing Stability Plus and Advantage), and ultimately the termination of all housing assistance for homeless families in March 2011.

By doing this, the previous Administration eliminated all housing-based policies that helped stabilized homeless families in permanent housing. This triggered longer shelter stays – average shelter stays for homeless families with children have soared to 435 days (14.5 months) and for homeless childless families to 518 days (17 months). Failed policies under the previous administration also forced more and more families to make repeated trips through the costly shelter system.

Moving Forward: Reinstate Housing-Based Solutions

The lack of housing subsidies to help homeless families secure permanent housing is at the heart of the current homelessness crisis. That is why it is so essential that the City and State partner to create a new rent subsidy to supplement existing Federal and City housing resources.

As we testified recently, following are highlights of the steps that can be taken to reverse the ineffective and counter-productive policies from the previous administration and implement housing-based policies to reduce record-high family homelessness:

1. Utilize existing Federal and City housing resources to move a designated number of homeless families and individuals from the shelter system into permanent housing:

· Resume priority referrals of eligible homeless households to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) public housing waiting list.

· Resume referrals of eligible homeless households to Section 8 voucher waiting lists so that when Section 8 becomes available this could be resource.

· Reinstate the NYCHA waiting list priority status previously granted to homeless applicants for both the public housing and Section 8 voucher programs.

· Resume priority referrals of homeless families and individuals to a designated number of vacancies in existing housing units assisted by the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

2. Work with the State to create an effective City-State rental assistance program for homeless New Yorkers to supplement existing Federal and City housing resources. The program should:

· Assist at least 5,000 households annually,

· Offer at least five years of rent subsidy per eligible household,

· Be otherwise modeled on the proven Federal Section 8 voucher program (this includes provisions that rent subsidies are not linked to welfare benefits, program participants pay no more than 30% of their income towards rent, apartments must meet Section 8-style housing quality standards, and rent levels are in line with Section 8 “Fair Market Rents”),

· Provide a mechanism to ensure ongoing housing stability for those homeless households with members with disabilities or the barriers to employment, who cannot otherwise afford to retain housing after the five-year subsidy has expired, and

· Be administered by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

Proposed Resolution No. 123-A urges the State Legislature and the Governor to act quickly to remove restrictive language currently in the State budget that prohibits the use of State funds and State-controlled TANF funds to finance a new rent subsidy program to help homeless shelter residents secure permanent housing. We support this resolution, and look forward to working with City and State officials to help create a much-needed rental assistance program for homeless New Yorkers.

Thank you for the opportunity to share this testimony. And, as always, we look forward to working with the committee and the City Council in the coming months and years on efforts to reduce New York City’s homeless population.