Today’s Read: Poor Families to Get More Help With Rent From New York State

In a tremendous victory for low-income families, New York State has reached a settlement to substantially increase the monthly rent subsidies for households in the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement program. FEPS, which serves approximately 10,000 families with children, failed to adequately cover the cost of housing because subsidy levels were frozen in 2004. As rents citywide increased steeply, more families faced the prospect of eviction and subsequent homelessness. Eviction remains a leading cause of record homelessness, and preventing homelessness through rent subsidies is considerably less expensive than paying for emergency shelter. In addition to raising subsidy levels and thereby enabling more families to remain stably housed, the settlement will also expand FEPS to domestic violence households and consolidate the current State and City FEPS programs, which had different eligibility criteria and amounts.

The settlement will have a dramatic impact on thousands of families struggling to pay rent, but countless others remain at risk of homelessness due to woefully inadequate public assistance shelter allowances. The State should take the next step in addressing the rampant housing affordability crisis by making this available to help all New Yorkers on public assistance who are at risk of homelessness or who have already lost their homes. Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi’s Home Stability Support proposal would accomplish just that, by establishing a statewide rent subsidy for public assistance households facing eviction, homelessness, or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous conditions. You can add your name to the growing list of New Yorkers endorsing this socially and fiscally responsible solution: Please sign our petition calling on Governor Cuomo to support HSS.

Nikita Stewart wrote about the FEPS settlement in The New York Times:

The public assistance program, known as the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement, has remained flat since it was established in 2004, even as rents have skyrocketed. Under the settlement, a family of three eligible for $850 per month, for example, would now be eligible for $1,515, a 78 percent increase.

The increase, which could go into effect as early as April, was agreed to on Monday and settled a lawsuit filed in December 2015 by four single mothers — two in the Bronx, one on Staten Island and one in Manhattan. The women said they faced eviction because the monthly public assistance they received from the state was “grossly inadequate” and far below fair-market rent. In 2015, fair-market rent was $1,571 for a two-bedroom apartment, and it is now $1,637. Represented by the Legal Aid Society and Hughes Hubbard & Reed, the women were seeking increases in the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement for families with children who are under the threat of eviction and another benefit, known as the “shelter allowance,” for families with children on public assistance.

The settlement stops short of increasing the basic shelter allowance, which is $400 for a family of three, but focuses on families in imminent danger of losing their housing by greatly increasing the subsidies and expanding eligibility for the program. The program is currently restricted to families with minor children who have been sued by a landlord. Now, victims of domestic violence will be included, even if they are not in court.

The new eviction prevention subsidy will put a “substantial dent” in homelessness, Kenneth R. Stephens, a supervising lawyer with the Legal Aid Society, said in an interview. “It is probably the first real positive proposal on a scale that’s consistent with the crisis that we’re facing,” he said.

A Strong Step by New York City to Help Tenants Keep Housing

For years, there’s been talk of funding legal counsel for city residents facing eviction in a broad, inclusive way. But despite City Council support, concern about the scope and cost always prevented full budgetary support from City Hall.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has proposed a program that eventually will provide free legal representation to any city resident facing eviction who earns less than $50,000, and legal counseling to anyone whose income rises above that threshold. At full scale, the program will cost $155 million a year.

Today’s Read: Delaying Supportive Housing Funding a Luxury New York’s Homeless Don’t Have

Supportive housing is proven to break the cycle of chronic homelessness by giving people the stability of a permanent home and the support services they need to thrive, while simultaneously saving taxpayer dollars. But, faced with record homelessness, State leaders continue to impose unnecessary obstacles that could jeopardize the creation of more desperately needed supportive units.

Governor Cuomo committed to develop 20,000 units of supportive housing over 15 years in his 2016 State of the State Address, and his 2016 executive budget included a five-year $2 billion housing and homelessness plan for the first 6,000 supportive units. However, at the end of the last legislative session in June, the Governor and legislative leaders only released $150 million for 1,200 units of supportive housing. The remainder of the $2 billion was subjected to a still-unresolved Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The State is now in its FY 2018 budget process, but there is nothing preventing this MOU from being signed now or any time before the new budget is enacted in April.

The Coalition and other members of the Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing have kept up the pressure over the past year by meeting with elected officials, presenting testimony, hosting more than two dozen weekly rallies outside Gov. Cuomo’s Manhattan office since July, and coordinating a phone call-in campaign last week. Despite these efforts, Governor Cuomo and the legislative leaders continue to needlessly delay the release of the promised funds – making a conscious choice to prioritize politics over the lives of the 88,000 homeless New Yorkers statewide.

Peter Cook, the executive director of the New York State Council of Churches, explained in a New York Slant op-ed that the uncertainty around the supportive housing funds has a dire impact on the overall financing of these important projects.

Cuomo has a proven track record of quickly closing deals to get what he wants. He knows that supportive housing cannot be built solely through annual appropriations. He should move now to get this memorandum signed immediately to release the promised $2 billion for supportive and affordable housing.

Studies throughout the country have repeatedly demonstrated that supportive housing pays for itself by reducing medical and psychiatric hospitalizations, detox and rehab programs, shelters and incarceration. In New York, placing homeless individuals in supportive housing has been found to save our government $10,100 per year, per tenant. Supportive housing developers, investors and service providers need long-term financing commitments for the future development of safe, permanent housing for the most vulnerable New Yorkers. Without long-term, state-committed capital and operating subsidies, it is impossible to attract private investment for the acquisition of land and predevelopment financing, which can together cost millions. This will have negative consequences for years to come.

In the past, New York/New York Agreements between New York City and New York State attracted investors because they diminished risk to developers by providing long-term commitments to fund a set number of units. The five-year memorandum that the governor promised is critical to creating the robust pipeline of supportive housing needed to address New York State’s homelessness crisis.

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