Today’s Read: Housing Advocates See Meager Gains, Some Threats in State Budget

The State’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget, which was finalized late last week, includes various housing initiatives, such as a pilot rent subsidy program and continued funding for supportive housing. Buried in the budget bills, however, is language that could impose new counterproductive barriers to addressing record homelessness – showing that Governor Cuomo continues his refusal to partner with the City on tackling the historic crisis. The budget requires that NYC and other localities develop and submit homeless outreach and services plans along with outcome reports. At the same time, it authorizes the State to withhold or deny “in whole or in part” the nearly $2 billion in critical funds it reimburses localities for welfare benefits, shelters, housing subsidies, and AIDS housing if it does not approve local plans and reports on homelessness. Although the State has yet to specify the requirements for outreach plans (expected to be filed as emergency regulations), this unprecedented action opens the door for the State to impede the City’s progress through its HOME-STAT initiative and other important outreach work.

In response to the budget language, the Coalition’s Deputy Executive Director for Policy Shelly Nortz released the following statement:

“The Governor’s petty power grab will only serve to undermine the ability of the counties and New York City to fight homelessness and meet the needs of New York’s most vulnerable individuals and families. This claw back provision demands that these localities – which in many cases are already doing far more than the State to respond to record homelessness – get the Administration’s explicit approval before receiving a dollar of social services aid they are owed for having already provided cash assistance, eviction prevention, shelters, and rent subsidies to the most desperately needy households. Simply put, these changes put brinkmanship above common sense and sound policy – and we call on Governor Cuomo to stop playing politics with our most vulnerable neighbors whose needs hang in the balance.”

Abigail Savitch-Lew first reported about the outreach issue in City Limits in January, and last week she summarized the main housing and homelessness parts of the budget, including the troubling new requirements concerning street outreach and the threat to withhold reimbursements:

Governor assumes power over homeless outreach

Shelly Nortz of the Coalition for the Homeless has in the past raised concerns about the governor’s seeming interest in requiring cities to remove mentally ill homeless people from the street against their will.

At the governor’s instance, the final bill includes language that allows the state to deny large amounts funding for things like shelters, cash welfare benefits and rent subsidies to a district that “fails to develop, submit, or implement an approved outreach plan or an approved homeless services plan or to develop or submit homeless services outcome reports consistent with those requirements promulgated by the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.”

Prior to now, localities have not had to submit outreach plans to the state—and the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance has not yet issued any requirements about outreach. Nortz is worried the governor will use this new language to eventually force cities to remove mentally ill homeless people from the streets.

“Frankly, it’s infuriating,” she says.