Today’s Read: Assembly Opens With Emphasis on Poverty, Affordable Housing

The State legislative session officially started on Thursday, with the Assembly leadership committing to combat New York’s record-breaking homelessness crisis. According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, New York has the highest rate of homelessness of any state in the nation, with more than 92,000 homeless New Yorkers statewide on a single night in 2019. As Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie said in his address at the start of the legislative session, “It is simply unacceptable that safe, affordable housing is out of reach for so many New Yorkers.”

The Speaker’s comments give hope that this session will finally see the implementation of the statewide rent subsidy proposal Home Stability Support (HSS). HSS would bridge the difference between the inadequate public assistance shelter allowances and actual rents for families and individuals who are homeless or at risk of homelessness because they are facing eviction or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous conditions. It would save children and adults from the trauma of homelessness while also saving tax dollars. The State legislature has sought funds for HSS since 2016, but HSS has not passed despite wide bipartisan support in both the Assembly and Senate.

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address on Wednesday included a vague commitment to dedicate resources to address homelessness. The Governor’s remarks echoed his prior pronouncements dating back to at least 2016, and his briefing book did not specify any new investments aside from small programs targeted to homeless veterans, youth aging out of foster care, and survivors of domestic violence. Coalition for the Homeless eagerly awaits the Governor’s budget proposal to assess whether it includes sufficient investments in solutions to homelessness – such as Home Stability Support and permanent supportive housing – that New Yorkers so desperately need.

Anna Gronewold wrote about the start of the session and Speaker Heastie’s remarks for Politico:

The state Assembly will work to address the homelessness crisis in the new legislative session.

In his opening speech Thursday, Speaker Carl Heastie said the Assembly will focus on the issue comprehensively through investments in affordable housing and mental health treatment.

Heastie said the number of New Yorkers who were homeless over a recent 12-month period exceeded 250,000 — more than the populations of every city in the state except for Buffalo and New York — and the number of people sleeping in New York City’s municipal shelters is now 59 percent higher than it was 10 years ago.

“We cannot address these issues in piecemeal fashion — they are all interconnected,” Heastie said. “It is time, once and for all, that we put an end to the homeless crisis by keeping people in their homes and making continued investments in supportive housing for those who need it.”