City Council Introduces Resolution Calling for Home Stability Support

Thousands of New Yorkers struggle to pay rent each month, and the affordability crisis is particularly challenging for households receiving public assistance benefits. An estimated two-thirds of public assistance households living in private housing statewide grapple with rents that exceed their shelter allowances, and the inadequacy of this benefit has driven many families and individuals into the ballooning homeless shelter system.

To address this longstanding issue, Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi worked with the Coalition for the Homeless and other advocates to create the Home Stability Support proposal. HSS would establish a statewide rent subsidy for public assistance households facing eviction, homelessness, or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous conditions. It would help bridge the difference between the public assistance shelter allowance and actual fair market rents – thereby dramatically reducing homelessness and saving hundreds of millions of dollars in averted emergency shelter costs, according to an analysis by NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Despite broad bipartisan support among City and State officials, faith leaders, and advocates, Home Stability Support was unfortunately not included in the State budget passed last month. Nevertheless, Assemblymember Hevesi, along with a strong coalition of elected leaders and advocates, is determined to continue pushing for the adoption of this vital, cost-effective program as soon as possible. Last week, the New York City Council introduced a resolution in support of HSS. Res. 1462-2017 reads:

Whereas, New York City (N.Y.C. or the City) is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis due to the fact that over the past 20 years wages for the City’s renters have failed to increase at a fast enough rate to keep pace with rent increases; and

Whereas, According to the Coalition for the Homeless, between 2010 and 2014 the median household income in the City rose by 2 percent, while median rents rose by 14 percent; and

Whereas, In the lowest-income neighborhoods, the median income decreased by 7 percent, while rents rose by 26 percent; and

Whereas, One-third of N.Y.C. residents are housing insecure, meaning they are spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent and were they to miss a paycheck they would be unable to pay their rent; and

Whereas, In recent years homelessness in the City reached the highest levels since the great depression of the 1930s; and

Whereas, According to the N.Y.C. Department of Homeless Services (DHS) Daily Report as of December 2016, more than 60,000 individuals live homeless shelters including 23,738 children; and

Whereas, Legislative action has been taken at the Federal, State and local level to create and fund cash assistance and rent supplement programs to help people make ends meet and remain in their homes, but these programs are not providing enough assistance to keep pace with the increasingly high cost of living in the City; and

Whereas, Cash assistance programs, administered locally through the Human Resources Administration (HRA), are designed to enable households, with limited incomes, meet the basic needs of living, shelter, food, utility, and other daily living expenses; and

Whereas, Eligibility for a cash assistance grant is based on household size, income, and other factors; and

Whereas, Cash assistance is divided into three specific need areas: basic allowance, home energy allowance and shelter allowance; and

Whereas, The shelter allowance schedule is a series of state regulatory limits on rent assistance based on district, family size, and whether heat is included in the rent; and

Whereas, According to the Community Service Society, the current shelter allowance for a 3 person household with children is $400 per month, while the 2016 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) fair market rent for a two bedroom unit is $1,571 per month; and

Whereas, According to the Coalition for the Homeless, two-thirds of households on public assistance who live in private housing statewide are grappling with rents that exceed their shelter allowances; and

Whereas, According to data compiled by the Coalition for the Homeless, the Legal Aid Society, and the Empire Justice Center, in the City there are 54,013 households receiving shelter allowances that do not cover the cost of their rent; and

Whereas, In New York City, 41,628 households that receive shelter allowances have a rent that is one and a half times the shelter allowance and are on the brink of becoming homeless; and

Whereas, Rental supplements were created by New York State in 2003, authorizing localities to administer rent supplements to supplement cash assistance; and

Whereas, Rent supplements, including Living In Communities (LINC), the City Family Eviction Prevention Supplement (CITYFEPS), and the Special Exit and Prevention Supplement (SEPS), provide additional monetary grants to individuals and families struggling to pay their rent; and

Whereas, Increasing rent supplements would cost far less than it currently costs to house a family in a New York City shelter; and

Whereas, New York State Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi proposed the Home Stability Support (HSS) plan to ensure people are not forced into shelter and are instead able to remain in their rental unit; and

Whereas, HSS would be funded entirely by State dollars and would provide relief by replacing all existing rent supplements; and

Whereas, The goal of HSS is to bridge the difference between the shelter allowance and 85 percent of the local Fair Market Rent (FMR), determined by HUD; and

Whereas, HSS would allow localities to raise the supplement up to 100 percent of the FMR should they choose to subsidize the remainder; and

Whereas, Furthermore, as proposed, HSS would also include a differential for housing that does not include heat in the monthly rent; and

Whereas, As proposed, HSS would also encourage employment by including a one-year transitional benefit for households that increase their earnings enough to leave public assistance; now, therefore be it

Resolved, That the Council of the City of New York supports the Home Stability Support plan, which would create a new statewide rent supplement for families and individuals who are eligible for public assistance benefits and who are facing eviction, homelessness, or the loss of housing due to situations such as domestic violence or hazardous living conditions.

 

Experts Discuss Causes of and Solutions to Record Homelessness

On April 4th, a panel of experts discussed Homelessness and Housing in New York State as part of the Warren M. Anderson Legislative Breakfast Series sponsored by the Government Law Center at Albany Law School. Shelly Nortz, the Coalition’s Deputy Executive Director for Policy, moderated the discussion. Topics included the economic and political roots of mass homelessness and highlighted programs that can help stem the tide, such as permanent supportive housing and the Home Stability Support rent subsidy proposal.

Shelly expressed concerns about the current political climate and threat of Federal funding cuts for programs helping the most vulnerable people. She explained, “The advent of modern homelessness started coincidental with two dynamics. One was deinstitutionalization, when there were very large numbers of people with psychiatric disabilities discharged from State institutions to communities without adequate housing. And the second was a massive reduction in Federal housing assistance and throwing people off the public benefits rolls” during the Reagan era. “So we live with that legacy today,” she said.

The situation is particularly dire in New York, and Shelly called for bold solutions to the record crisis: “The State told HUD that we have 19,000 more individuals entering homelessness than exiting homelessness every year. That’s an unsustainable rate of growth, and it is what produces this dynamic. We can’t keep on doing the same thing that isn’t working well.”

Kevin O’Connor, Executive Director of Joseph’s House & Shelter, detailed the various factors that have given rise to record homelessness in New York State, emphasizing that the growth in homelessness mirrors the growth in income inequality. “Homelessness is a macroeconomic problem. It is not a personal responsibility problem. And yet we’ve been treating homelessness as a personal responsibility almost from day one. Our jobs are to help these individuals: To get them sober, to get them to take their psychiatric meds, to make them have better decisions, to retrain them in employment, to teach them how to read, to get them identification, to have them make better decisions and relationships. All of that just contributed to an increasing number of people ringing our door. Business is booming in the homeless industry because we’re ignoring the root cause. … We’ve had a steady erosion in entitlement programs – social security and disability, welfare, general relief, subsidized housing – that went hand in hand with that obscene trajectory in income inequality. We’ve had changes in tax codes that incentivized wealth through property investments that had a direct impact on the cost of rents in all of our communities.”

Kevin O’Connor explaining the relationship between income inequality and homelessness.

As a result of these various structural factors, more and more New Yorkers have fallen into homelessness – not just single adults, but also families and working people. Kevin summarized, “This net is getting wider and wider.”

Instead of piecemeal efforts to address homelessness, advocates voiced support for Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi’s Home Stability Support plan to create a statewide rent subsidy for public assistance households facing eviction, homelessness, or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous conditions. Ray Burke, a staff attorney at Empire Justice Center, said HSS arose out of a need to tackle homelessness on a larger scale: “This is a statewide issue, and so we started working on Home Stability Support with Assemblyman Hevesi and our colleagues at other organizations, recognizing that we need to learn the lessons of these shelter supplement programs and just try to push a bigger, a bolder solution for what is a large crisis.”

Assemblymember Hevesi added that Home Stability Support is a fiscally sound way to reduce homelessness: “[Comptroller Scott Stringer] estimated that over 10 years, if you phase this program in, you’re going to drop the number of children and families in shelter by 80 percent and the number of single adults in shelter by 40. And at the same time, you were going to be saving the City $300 million over 10 years. So the policy seemed sort of like a financial no-brainer for the City.” Although the program was not included in the State budget passed in April, Assemblymember Hevesi said the proposal has “widespread support for next year,” and he will work with advocates to continue to push for its implementation.

The panel also discussed supportive housing, which offers the stability of a permanent home along with on-site support services for people with mental illness or other special needs. Nancy Chiarella, Executive Director of CARES, Inc., explained the efficacy of supportive housing in breaking the cycle of homelessness, saying, “This is not a new model, if you will, but the research continues to come out of how effective it is, both in helping the lives of those living in the housing but also saving funding that can be targeted to more proactive things in the community.” Fortunately, the State budget, which was approved days after the panel discussion, finally released funding for the first 6,000 supportive housing units of Governor Cuomo’s 20,000-unit commitment.

A recording of the full panel discussion can be viewed online here, and Community Legal Education materials are available here. Learn more about record homelessness here, and about supportive housing here and here.

Fair Share Bills Are NOT Fair to Homeless New Yorkers

The citywide affordable housing crisis has pushed record numbers of New Yorkers into homelessness. In an effort to meet its moral and legal obligation to provide shelter for all homeless individuals and families, the City has scrambled to open more shelters to meet the need. While some communities have welcomed new shelters and greeted their neighbors with compassion, others have resisted the establishment of shelter facilities in their neighborhoods. Unfortunately, community concerns are often based on false, damaging stereotypes about homeless people, rather than an appreciation of the reality that homeless New Yorkers struggle with the same affordability crisis we all face. Most homeless households are women with young children. Many work, and others are too disabled to work, or are survivors of domestic violence.

In an attempt to address misguided community concerns, the City Council released a report and introduced a package of “Fair Share” legislation in early March to change the City’s process for siting shelters and other municipal facilities. Although the purported intent of the bills is to empower communities in the siting process for municipal facilities, they would establish daunting new barriers to the siting of desperately needed shelters and other facilities that serve vulnerable populations, including prohibiting their establishment altogether in some communities. Specifically, they would prohibit the City from opening new shelters in community districts that are assessed to be “highly concentrated,” while also failing to make it easier to site facilities in other areas.

The legislation is harmful in many ways, but most prominently, it would foster unlawful discrimination by authorizing mechanisms under which communities could discriminate against people with disabilities – including those who are homeless – in violation of the Federal Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities Acts. Even the City’s current “Fair Share” law is being used to prevent the establishment of shelters, thereby causing serious delays that threaten the right to shelter and fair housing rights of the clients who would be sleeping in these shelters under the Callahan and Butler settlements.

The Council’s proposed legislation would exacerbate existing unlawful discrimination against vulnerable New Yorkers by establishing further avenues to delay or forestall the opening of shelters, transitional housing, supportive housing, and treatment facilities.

A central flaw in the “Fair Share” package is that it prioritizes the stably housed community members who would oppose the establishment of a shelter, and at the same time disregards the needs of homeless New Yorkers to remain close to existing social supports, schools, workplaces, doctors, churches, and other resources that can help them get back on their feet again. As we explained in our State of the Homeless 2017 report, “The proposed legislation would do little more than foster the rejection of homeless shelters and other vital transitional housing and human services without providing a vehicle to accomplish their needed placement, resulting in continued capacity strains that would make it difficult to place families near their children’s schools.”

By limiting the City’s ability to open shelters quickly at a time of unprecedented need, the proposed bills would unquestionably result in prolonged suffering for homeless people – and more men, women, and children might have to resort to sleeping on the city’s streets and subways, or in laundromats, vestibules, and other places not fit for human habitation. Specifically, the “Fair Share” bills as proposed would:

  • Deprive homeless New Yorkers of life-saving shelter, access to treatment, and permanent housing options in their neighborhoods of origin;
  • Ignore the needs of families and individuals to remain in their own neighborhoods when they lose their housing so that they would not also lose their jobs, proximity to school, and contact with their social supports;
  • Undercut the City’s legal obligations to provide shelter to those in need;
  • Foster unlawful discrimination against people with disabilities, including those who are homeless;
  • Authorize the unlawful public release of confidential health and domestic violence status of homeless individuals and families, including those with a family member who is HIV-positive; and
  • Risk serious violations of the Federal Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, which could generate Federal fines and a loss of Federal housing funds, and cause the City to face litigation for violating the rights of homeless people and those with disabilities.

These defects could be addressed simply by revising the language to exclude shelters, supportive housing, and other facilities serving people with disabilities. If amended in this way, the bills would no longer place vulnerable New Yorkers at risk or force the City to violate court orders and Federal laws. Ultimately, this legislation draws attention away from the real solutions to homelessness – permanent housing – which, if implemented at a scale to match the need, would reduce the demand for shelters.

The Legal Aid Society and Coalition for the Homeless jointly released a statement in opposition to seven of the nine Fair Share bills because they would result in homeless New Yorkers being deprived of shelter and permanent housing options. Read the full statement here.

If your organization would like to learn more or sign on to our opposition memo, please email info@cfthomeless.org

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