On Thursday, Coalition for the Homeless presented testimony to the Fiscal Committees of the New York State Legislature on the NYS Executive Budget Proposal for Human Services 2020. As legislators enter budget negotiations, they face an unprecedented homelessness crisis: Nearly 253,000 New Yorkers were homeless in the 2018-2019 schoolyear, staying in shelters or doubled-up with friends or family. This number, which does not even include the thousands of New Yorkers who bed down on the streets each night, exceeds the populations of every city in the state with the exception of New York City. Since Governor Cuomo took office in 2011, homelessness has worsened – fueled in large part by the withdrawal of State resources for a housing subsidy program, a years-long delay in funding and initiating a new State supportive housing program, and inadequate pre-discharge housing planning for people being released from State prisons.
Shelly Nortz, the Coalition’s Deputy Executive Director for Policy, recently spoke about the urgent need for the State to take action on addressing homelessness in an interview with The Capitol Pressroom. Specifically, she called for more investments in permanent supportive housing and the need for a new statewide rent subsidy program called Home Stability Support (S.2375/A.1620), legislation introduced by Senator Krueger and Assemblymember Hevesi and co-sponsored by 35 Senators as well as 125 members of the Assembly.
The Coalition’s budget testimony further reiterated the scale of the crisis and the need for bold solutions, including Home Stability Support (HSS) and additional capital funds to spur supportive housing development:
Home Stability Support
HSS is a rent supplement designed to help individuals and families receiving public assistance remain housed when they are at risk of displacement due to eviction, hazardous conditions, or domestic violence, and also to help those who are already homeless obtain and retain stable housing.
Critical to the design of the program is that these groups – those who are homeless and those at risk of homelessness – be helped simultaneously. This is the best way to ensure that the costly shelter system can become smaller as the number of families and individuals receiving subsidies grows. An estimated 80,000 households would benefit from receiving HSS subsidies once fully implemented.
To place this in context, just over 229,000 households receive Federal Housing Choice Vouchers in New York State, but the waiting lists for this assistance are largely closed. HSS could increase the number of households receiving long-term rental assistance by about 35 percent.
The FY2020 Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment in New York City is $1,951, but the public assistance shelter allowance for a typical family of three is only $400 per month. HSS would require New York State to supplement these inadequate shelter allowances up to 85 percent of the Fair Market Rent. Localities would have the option to cover the additional amount needed to bring maximum rents up to 100 percent of Fair Market Rents as may be needed given local market conditions.
HSS supplements would be considerably less expensive than the $71,624 annual cost of emergency shelter for each family in New York City. As NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer projected in 2017, HSS could reduce New York City’s shelter population by 80 percent among families with children and 40 percent among single adults in a decade, saving New York City about $316 million in its tenth year through foregone shelter costs and streamlined services.
The State has largely left localities to fund shelters and preventive services on their own in recent years, so the State’s investment in HSS would represent a long-overdue course correction. All levels of government must work together to tackle homelessness.
We are pleased that Gov. Cuomo provided additional funds for more supportive housing in his Executive Budget proposal, but, honestly, it is far too little given the dire situation we are seeing on the ground. We strongly urge the Senate and Assembly to provide a capital appropriation to support all of the remaining supportive housing units originally announced in 2016.
Given that supportive housing placements for single adults in New York City are at an all-time low, even as the shelter census rises, it is literally a matter of life and death for the most vulnerable New Yorkers facing homelessness as well as serious mental illnesses and other disabilities. They demand our compassion and immediate attention.
Gov. Cuomo promised these neediest of New Yorkers 20,000 units of supportive housing in 2016, of which only 6,000 have been funded. Please, ensure that this budget contains a capital appropriation for the remaining 14,000 units so that the sponsors and investors can get this vital housing into production. We do not need to remind you that it will cost less to build it now than it will later, in both dollars and, more importantly, human suffering.
The full testimony can be read here.