Mayor de Blasio, Wake Up and Build a Solution to Homelessness

Mayor de Blasio won re-election handily, promising in his victory speech to make New York City the fairest city in America. It’s a bold vision — one he’s soon going to make a trip to Iowa to try to sell on the national stage.

But with 62,000 homeless New Yorkers (including more than 23,000 children) sleeping in shelters each night and thousands more on the streets, there is a lot of work to do to make it real.

Coalition Testifies on HPD’s Coordination with DHS/HRA to Address the Homelessness Crisis

It is no surprise that the affordable housing crisis continues to fuel record homelessness in New York City. While Mayor de Blasio has made important investments in homelessness prevention, including vastly increased legal services and rent arrears grants, he has not directed sufficient resources to help homeless families move out of shelters and into their own homes. In order to alleviate the suffering of tens of thousands of homeless New Yorkers, the City must offer them a pathway out of shelters to stable homes by building much more deeply subsidized affordable permanent housing for homeless individuals and families. Unfortunately, the Mayor’s updated affordable housing plan fails to provide any increase in permanent homeless housing. Even with a recent announcement that the Housing NY plan would accelerate and expand its targets, the Mayor has committed to creating or preserving just 10,000 units of housing for homeless families and individuals out of his 300,000-unit goal – a paltry 3 percent, and nowhere near enough to meet the scale of the pressing need.

On Monday, Coalition for the Homeless and The Legal Aid Society presented testimony before the New York City Council’s Committee on General Welfare and Committee on Housing and Buildings on “Oversight: HPD’s Coordination with DHS/HRA to Address the Homelessness Crisis.” We recommended steps the administration must take to target more housing for homeless households, which would help people move out of shelters and into stable homes of their own:

Mayor de Blasio must immediately align his housing goals with the reality of record homelessness and his touted progressive values. Specifically, he must build 10,000 new units of housing for homeless individuals and families over the next five years – a first and achievable step given the scale of his housing plan and more importantly, the scale of the need. To succeed in truly turning the tide, the Mayor must continue this level of homeless housing production throughout the life of his housing plan. Additionally, HPD should be utilizing its network of developers to streamline the availability of rental units to shelter residents with City-initiated vouchers in hand. Currently, thousands of voucher holding families are languishing in shelters, while HPD is managing a wide portfolio of potentially suitable units for these families. This mismatch in priorities should be rectified immediately.

Another driver of the extremely limited supply of affordable apartments for people with very low incomes is the City’s cluster site shelter program, which keeps thousands of rent regulated apartments off the market while they are used as shelter placements. We commend the Mayor’s proposal in his Turning the Tide plan to phase out the use of clusters, but we are concerned that without affirmative steps to protect the affordability of these units, many will be lost from rent regulation as they come out of the program. We support Int. No. 1529, which would require the City to document its reduction in use of cluster sites, but recommend that the bill be amended to include provisions that would protect the rent regulatory status of the units. One way to do this would be to require landlords to provide notice to tenants that the apartment was formerly a cluster site apartment and is rent regulated. The Council could also require HPD to exercise oversight of these transitions. We are happy to work with you to amend the bill to ensure it protects this valuable affordable housing resource.

These steps, taken in conjunction with doubling the number of NYCHA placements for homeless households, will have an immediate impact on record homelessness by achieving the twin goals of providing stable permanent affordable homes for homeless families and individuals and reducing the City’s reliance on expensive emergency shelters.

Only with stable, affordable housing can New York help families get out of the shelter system and remain stably housed. The Mayor has the tools to reduce homelessness substantially for the first time in over a decade. We implore him to use them.

The full testimony can be read here.

Today’s Read: What the Tax Reform Bill Means for Housing

Tax reform has been the center of attention this month, with the House voting last Thursday to pass The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (HR 1), which would dramatically change the tax code. Although the impact the bill will have on income taxes has been widely debated, the House tax bill will also have significant – and potentially devastating – ramifications for the production of desperately needed affordable housing. The tax bill approved by the House would eliminate private activity multifamily housing bonds, which are a critical tool in building and preserving affordable housing. With a near-record 62,351 New Yorkers going to bed in a homeless shelter tonight, and countless others struggling to pay unaffordable rents, elected officials should be expanding the funding sources for affordable housing – not reducing them. As the Senate debates its own version of tax reform in the coming weeks, it is essential that they recognize how their decisions could help or hurt homeless Americans.

Jeff Andrews of Curbed explained what the House tax reform bill means for housing:

Affordable housing advocates previously expressed opposition to the House tax reform bill over indirect changes to the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, which incentivizes private investment in affordable housing for low-income Americans. While the bill explicitly retains LIHTC, it repeals any use of tax-exempt private activity bonds, which are used in as many as 60 percent of LIHTC development projects.

The bill also cuts the corporate income tax rate from 35 to 20 percent, which experts claims will lower the amount of equity developers are able to raise for all LIHTC projects, whether they use private-activity bonds or not. This would lead to fewer new affordable housing units produced by the program.

In response to the House vote, the Coalition for the Homeless and 11 other affordable housing organizations released the following statement:

“We are deeply disappointed in the four members of the House’s New York delegation who voted for a tax bill that, if signed into law, would make our statewide housing and homelessness crisis even worse. The future of affordable housing production throughout New York State is now in jeopardy.

“The bill passed today by the House would eliminate private activity multifamily Housing Bonds, which play a crucial role in financing the production of affordable housing. As we made clear to every member of the New York delegation, the elimination of these Housing Bonds would result in an annual statewide loss of approximately $4.5 billion in affordable housing financing, preventing the production of approximately 17,000 affordable homes and 28,000 jobs across our state each year. Taking this action is especially unconscionable at a time when rents are still rising, homelessness is increasing and public housing infrastructure continues to deteriorate.

“It is not too late for Congress to preserve housing efforts in New York and across the nation. The Senate has proposed a tax bill that would not eliminate Housing Bonds, and that must remain true in any future bill drafts. Everyone in Congress must remember that their constituents are relying on them to protect and expand access to desperately needed affordable housing.”


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