Today’s Read: Albany’s Unfinished Business

As State lawmakers meet in Albany for the last eight weeks of the legislative session, it is vital that they commit to addressing the homelessness crisis through a series of key actions.

Mary Brosnahan, the Coalition’s President & CEO, wrote an op-ed for New York Slant in which she assesses steps taken thus far by the City and State to tackle near-record homelessness and calls for further action in order to bring about significant decreases in the numbers of homeless men, women and children.

In particular, the Governor and State legislative leaders must act quickly to sign a memorandum of understanding and bring new supportive housing units online as soon as possible. Echoing the recommendations in our State of the Homeless report, Brosnahan also urges the State to support rental subsidy programs and collaborate with the City to improve the shelter system.

While the Coalition and other providers continue to press aggressively for additional local investment and reforms, here’s the simple truth: We need help. The sheer size and scope of this crisis, and its catastrophic effects on so many of our neighbors, demands that the state fulfill its historically indispensable role as full partner in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all New Yorkers.

Here’s what needs to happen in the next eight weeks:

  • Governor Cuomo and the Legislature included in this year’s state budget a critical investment of nearly $2 billion for supportive and affordable housing. But there’s still no legal mechanism necessary to release the funding for the creation of new housing units – despite the dire need. The Governor and Legislature must sign a Memorandum of Understanding, as required by language in the state budget documents, to make that $2 billion accessible to supportive housing developers and providers.
  • Affordable and supportive housing takes years to plan, site and build. In order to jumpstart this process, it’s imperative that the state immediately begin to issue Requests for Proposals – so that the groups experienced in building this specialized type of housing can apply for funding and get the ball rolling.
  • The state must make some of the $2 billion set aside for supportive housing available for “scattered-site” housing units. This will allow homeless people with mental illness and other disabilities to immediately move into available private market apartments (with contracted intensive case management provided on-site). The “scattered-site” has proven extremely successful and helps brings units online much faster than newly constructed housing.
  • The governor and the mayor must codify the relationship between their respective commitments to build supportive housing for the homeless [in a fourth “New York/New York Agreement”]. Without such a binding agreement, supportive housing developers – and the banks backing their projects – will have no legal guarantee that funds critical for upkeep and operation will be there in future years.
  • The state must approve the de Blasio administration’s plan to marshal savings from the downsizing of group facilities for youth toward the expansion of the city’s rental subsidy programs, which are successfully moving our homeless neighbors into permanent housing.
  • The state should reverse the harmful cuts to New York City’s emergency shelter system and help underwrite more Safe Haven shelters, described above.
  • The state must raise the rent caps on programs like the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement, which the city uses to house homeless families. FEPS rates are set unrealistically low by the state, given the soaring cost of housing in New York City.

Finally, both the mayor and governor have said repeatedly that they want to fix the dysfunctional shelter system – and indeed they must. But these efforts have to be carefully coordinated, with actual funds made available to improve conditions and move shelter residents into permanent housing – not carried out separately to score political points – backed by the real dollars needed improve conditions and help shelter residents move up and out into permanent housing.

The next eight weeks will prove whether Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo truly are ready to put aside their differences and work cooperatively to help homeless New Yorkers get off the streets, out of shelters, and into real homes.

Read the full op-ed at New York Slant.