Today’s Read: Johnson Unveils ‘Holistic, Long-Term’ Plan to Tackle City Homelessness Crisis

Coalition for the Homeless staff and elected officials stand in front of City Hall for a press conference

With record numbers of New Yorkers sleeping in shelters and thousands more bedding down on the streets and in the subways every night, the homelessness crisis demands bold solutions. On Thursday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson unveiled a sweeping new plan to address homelessness at a press conference on the steps of City Hall, joined by Council Member Stephen Levin and many homeless New Yorkers, advocates, and service providers. Speaker Johnson’s report, called “Our Homelessness Crisis: The Case for Change,” is the culmination of more than 18 months of consultations with stakeholders and advocates, including the Coalition for the Homeless.

The multifaceted report includes 90 policy recommendations under six categories: Prevent Homelessness; Increase Pathways to Permanent, Affordable Housing; Support Our Unsheltered Neighbors; Support Our Sheltered Neighbors Experiencing Homelessness; Integrate Housing and Homelessness Policy; and Long-Term Vision. Among the top recommendations is for the State to finally pass Home Stability Support, a statewide rent subsidy program that would raise voucher levels and help more New Yorkers avoid homelessness or move out of shelters.

Coalition for the Homeless Policy Director Giselle Routhier praised the Council for tackling the homelessness crisis with the urgency and attention it deserves:

“Coalition for the Homeless commends Speaker Johnson for developing this comprehensive and thoughtful plan, which acknowledges the root cause of homelessness: a lack of affordable housing. The plan’s recommendations are strong and include a comprehensive mix of expanding access to housing, preventing homelessness, improving emergency shelter systems, and increasing resources for homeless New Yorkers living on the street. We strongly echo the Council’s call for Albany to pass Home Stability Support, which would help thousands of vulnerable families across New York State move out of shelters and into homes of their own, and prevent evictions and other causes of housing instability that drive record numbers of families to seek shelter every year.”

Samar Khurshid wrote about the Council’s plan for Gotham Gazette:

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Thursday released a plan that he said takes a “smarter, more strategic, holistic, long-term” approach to addressing the city’s homelessness crisis, seeking to end what he called the siloed policies of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration and calling for more funding from the city and state to both help homeless individuals find permanent housing and prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place.

“This is, without exaggeration, a humanitarian crisis in the wealthiest city in the United States of America, and the time has come for urgent action,” Johnson said at the steps of City Hall, standing with advocates from non-profit organizations that provide services to the homeless and Council Member Stephen Levin, who chairs the Council’s General Welfare Committee with oversight of homelessness.

But while he gave the mayor some credit, Johnson critiqued the de Blasio administration for effectively siloing homelessness from housing and not offering an overall plan to meet the real needs of the city’s most vulnerable. “That makes no sense,” he said, emphasizing that housing and homelessness are two sides of the same coin and proposing that the city create a new position of deputy mayor for homelessness and affordable housing (there is currently a deputy mayor for housing and economic development while the deputy mayor for health and human services oversees much of the approach to addressing homelessness).

“All of us know what ultimately solves homelessness is simple. It is housing,” said Nathylin Flowers, a homeless activist who said she will turn 74 in March and will have spent five years living in shelter. Flowers famously confronted de Blasio over his housing policies in 2018 while he was working out at the Prospect Park Y.M.C.A., to which he was dismissive. “That’s all we need, housing,” she said.

Johnson noted that the city has massively increased spending on homelessness – the first budget passed under Mayor de Blasio spent $954 million on the Department of Homeless Services, while the mayor’s latest budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year allocates more than $2.1 billion towards the agency. “Blind spending will not solve the homelessness crisis,” Johnson said.

One of the major steps Johnson said would immediately reduce the homeless population would be to increase the value of rental subsidy vouchers for those experiencing or at risk of homelessness from the current maximum of $1,580 to a fair market rate of up to $1,951. He largely placed responsibility for this measure on the state, calling on the Legislature to establish the Home Stability Support program proposed by Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi of Queens. The program would create a new statewide rental subsidy, but has so far been opposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.