Today we celebrate a great advocacy victory with this weekend’s adoption of the 2017 New York State Budget: The release of $1 billion for the development of the first 6,000 of 20,000 supportive housing units for homeless New Yorkers as promised by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January of 2016 as part of his $20 billion plan to create affordable housing and address homelessness.
We thank Gov. Cuomo for keeping his promise, and we congratulate the Governor, Assembly, and Senate for delivering this critically needed housing for the roughly 88,000 homeless individuals and families living in New York State.
We honor our allies Assemblyman Hevesi, Senator Golden, the Supportive Housing Network of New York, Enterprise Community Partners, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Association for Community Living, Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing, Community Access, VOCAL-NY, Housing Works, and the NYS Council of Churches, along with hundreds of others who worked arm-in-arm for the past three years to create the political will necessary to achieve this objective. TODAY WE CELEBRATE!
On May 29, 2014, the Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing launched an effort to persuade Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio to join in the largest-ever collaboration to build 30,000 new units of permanent supportive housing for homeless New Yorkers. The organizers were inspired by the testimony of formerly homeless men and women whose lives have been saved by supportive housing. An early supporter was Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, who helped us transform the Campaign into a statewide effort seeking 35,000 State and City units. Mr. Hevesi held a series of very successful breakfast seminars that introduced his colleagues in the Legislature to the topic of supportive housing in order to earn their support for the Campaign’s objectives.
There were early signs of progress, with promises made in 2014 and 2015 that the State would fund new supportive housing by allocating a portion of legal settlement payments received from the banking industry, but the funds for supportive housing never materialized. In fact, the 2015 budget – despite some initial misplaced fanfare – showed a disappointing backslide in the State’s supportive housing investments.
To keep pressure on elected officials, Campaign organizers held rallies, used social media, worked with the NY City Council, won the support of members of the NYS Assembly and Senate, joined forces with faith leaders, and held a powerful forum co-sponsored by the New York Society for Ethical Culture to rev up the Campaign effort. With the support of elected officials, as well as rising media interest, homeless New Yorkers and formerly homeless tenants of supportive housing again testified to the dire need for more supportive housing. They shared their compelling stories that highlighted the transformative power of moving out of homelessness and into a home of one’s own.
Although the Campaign was unable to persuade the Governor and Mayor to create a joint plan, in November of 2015 (as forecast in the New York Daily News), Mayor de Blasio announced his own $2.6 billion plan to create 15,000 units of supportive housing over 15 years, including $1 billion in City capital funds for 7,500 new construction units.
Editorial support for a similar State commitment followed, and in January of 2016 Gov. Cuomo announced a similar $10 billion commitment to build 20,000 units of supportive housing statewide over the next 15 years as part of a larger $20 billion affordable housing plan. Our statewide Campaign goal of 35,000 supportive housing units was transformed from something aspirational into a pair of public promises from the Mayor and Governor to meet that goal.
The State budget adopted on April 1, 2016 included the initial $2 billion for affordable housing – including 6,000 units of supportive housing over five years – but unfortunately the release of the funds was contingent on the execution of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by the Governor and Legislative Leaders. Despite creative efforts to draw attention to the strength of the Campaign, the promises made, and the need to release the funds by the end of the Legislative Session, there was no resolution and only $150 million in supportive housing development funds had been released.
This disappointing outcome served as the inspiration for the most sustained regular advocacy event schedule in the history of the Coalition for the Homeless and the Campaigns for NY/NY Housing: Beginning on July 27, 2016, the Campaign – including many Coalition clients, staff members, and volunteers – began a schedule of weekly protests outside Gov. Cuomo’s Manhattan office, asking that he keep his promise to homeless New Yorkers and release the full $2 billion for affordable and supportive housing appropriated in the 2016 budget.
Media pressure built again as New York City’s shelter census rose to new records, and advocates pointed to a dwindling supply of supportive housing as the culprit. As the holidays arrived, a hoped-for Special Session during which the MOU might be resolved fizzled, leaving advocates to remind lawmakers for second year on Homeless Person’s Memorial Day that supportive housing saves lives. Despite media attention, weekly protests, and thousands of calls, there was no progress toward the release of the funds needed by housing sponsors to start supportive housing development. Going into a fourth year of dashed hopes, the Campaign tried a little humor on Groundhog Day with an homage to the movie bearing the same name.
As the budget deadline approached and lawmakers introduced their own versions of the budget, Campaign members began to fear the worst and thought that perhaps neither the budget nor the MOU would be resolved as the horse-trading continued into the wee hours. Lawmakers were unable to resolve their differences by the budget deadline, and on April 3rd, Gov. Cuomo did the unthinkable: He introduced a “budget extender” (over which he had sole control of the content) that inexplicably once again tied the 2016 housing funds to an MOU requirement. On April 5, 2017, after the Governor and Legislative Leaders had failed to reach an on-time budget agreement or an MOU, the Campaign held one more spirited rally – the 35th weekly gathering – imploring Gov. Cuomo to keep his promise to homeless New Yorkers.
Then on April 9th, nearly three years after its launch, the Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing finally reached a critical milestone: The 2017-2018 New York State budget finalized that day authorized the release of $1 billion in State funds to pay for the first 6,000 new units of supportive housing for homeless individuals and families (of the total 20,000 promised by the Governor in 2016) – with no MOU requirement standing in the way.
Assemblyman Hevesi celebrated this victory on the floor of the Assembly as the bill passed unanimously, and remarked on the broad bipartisan support he, Senator Golden, and Minority Leader Kolb had organized for this investment. Mr. Hevesi said, “This is a monumental step in the fight to end the homelessness crisis in New York State, and we will all benefit.”
We and the leadership of the Campaign applauded the outcome of our advocacy:
“This is a win for homeless New Yorkers. We are most grateful to Governor Cuomo and the Legislature for delivering the $1 billion needed to support the promise to build the first 6,000 of 20,000 promised supportive housing units in the next four years, and we urge accelerated implementation of the plan to address record homelessness,” said Shelly Nortz, Deputy Executive Director for Policy with the Coalition for the Homeless. “We thank Gov. Cuomo, the NYS Assembly, and the NYS Senate for releasing an unprecedented $2.5 billion in vitally-needed funds for supportive and affordable housing.”
“The Supportive Housing Network of New York and our 200 members across the state are elated about today’s announcement. We are deeply grateful to Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Heastie for this visionary and judicious investment and for the hard work that went into the process,” said Network Executive Director Laura Mascuch. “Today’s actions cement New York’s well-earned reputation for inventing and bringing to scale innovative models that provide the most vulnerable people among us the opportunity for a home, health, and a life of dignity. We truly appreciate the dedicated members and staff who made this crucial goal a reality.”
Judi Kende, vice president and New York market leader, Enterprise Community Partners said: “This year’s budget prioritizes low-income and vulnerable New Yorkers, and we applaud the Governor, Senate, and Assembly for their leadership and collaboration. Supportive housing is a proven, cost-saving solution that gives those with the highest barriers to housing the chance to lead healthy, successful lives. Today, our state’s leaders made a commitment that will benefit New Yorkers for years to come.”
“The journey to securing this funding was longer than expected, but we never lost sight of the thousands of homeless New Yorkers who want and deserve the chance to access the housing and services they need to better their lives,” said Kristin Miller, Director of the New York Office of the Corporation for Supportive Housing. “We are grateful the State of New York has approved the resources that open a clear path for vulnerable people to secure a brighter future, and we know the stability of having a place to call ‘home’ will make all the difference for them.”
“The Association for Community Living (ACL) thanks Governor Cuomo, along with the New York State Assembly and Senate for releasing the $2.5 billion for supportive and affordable housing,” said Toni Lasicki, Executive Director of the Association for Community Living. “We are especially thankful for the $1 billion that will be used to create 6,000 new supportive housing units statewide. This cost-effective solution of addressing homelessness will provide housing to some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers, including individuals suffering with mental illness.”
This is an unprecedented fiscal commitment by NYS of $1 billion for 6,000 new permanent supportive housing units over five years, and $1.5 billion more for affordable housing statewide (not including the replacement program for 421-a.) This is $200 million per year for five years for capital funds dedicated to supportive housing.
Gov. Cuomo, when he first announced this commitment, promised $10 billion for 20,000 units of permanent supportive housing over 15 years, and another $10 billion for 100,000 units of affordable housing in that time, and we will hold him to his word.