On Tuesday, Coalition for the Homeless and The Legal Aid Society presented testimony before the New York City Council’s Committee on General Welfare on the NYC 15/15 supportive housing initiative and related topics. Supportive housing is permanent affordable housing with on-site services to help people with mental illness, substance abuse issues, or other special needs. Following robust advocacy by the Coalition and other members of the Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing, Mayor de Blasio announced the 15/15 initiative in late 2015 to create 15,000 units of supportive housing in New York City over the next 15 years. However, the pace of production has lagged behind schedule, while the single adult shelter census has continued to reach new records. Last year only 1,500 single adults were able to access supportive housing from shelters – the lowest number in six years.
In response to this urgent need, the Coalition has called on the City to accelerate the timeline for the creation of NYC 15/15 units by scheduling their completion within 10 rather than 15 years – a request echoed and amplified by several Councilmembers at Tuesday’s hearing, including Speaker Johnson who, as reported in the Daily News, said: “There are homeless people everywhere, living on the streets, and it’s heartbreaking, it’s horrific. We need to speed up this plan … I don’t really care about a 15-year plan. I care about a three-year plan, or a four-year plan, or maybe a five-year plan at most.”
In addition, while supportive housing is a vital tool to reduce homelessness, the City must ensure that New Yorkers in need are effectively and appropriately served during the supportive housing application, eligibility, and placement process. As the Coalition and Legal Aid testified:
As the need has increased and units have become scarcer, we have encountered many issues relating to the application for, eligibility criteria for, and placement process for supportive housing. In addition, DSS has implemented new policies in response to the HUD Coordinated Entry mandate that pose serious concerns regarding the allocation of supportive housing units to those in need. For example, homeless applicants for supportive housing are now assigned a vulnerability score based in part on the number of systems contacts they have had, posing accuracy problems for extremely vulnerable homeless New Yorkers who are disengaged from government agencies. Further, the lack of an official appeals process ignores the need for flexibility when serving individuals with serious needs and increases the likelihood of errors. Copies of letters we have sent to DSS concerning these and a range of other issues are attached.
In particular, we have made the following broader recommendations to DSS regarding the supportive housing application, eligibility, and placement process:
- The application, eligibility determination, and vulnerability assessment processes must be accessible to clients who are disengaged from government agencies.
- An impartial appeals process must be established for eligibility and vulnerability determinations.
- New criteria to establish vulnerability must be made more flexible in the initial stage in order to accommodate high-needs individuals who do not have the required systems contacts to produce a vulnerability score that matches their needs.
- Information regarding eligibility and vulnerability determinations should be provided to clients in writing.
- DSS must affirmatively assist clients to understand the process and obtain necessary documentation during the application process.
- Providers should not be permitted to require additional documentation from applicants beyond PACT application documents or anything else that is outside the scope of funding and eligibility requirements.
The testimony also included a recommendation that the Council pass legislation to ensure that supportive housing tenants are informed of their rights. The full testimony can be read here.