Today’s Read: This Program Could Boost the Fight Against Homelessness

As Albany legislators negotiate the 2019-2020 State budget, more elected officials and concerned New Yorkers across the state are calling for the budget to include a rent subsidy called Home Stability Support (HSS). This proposal, initially introduced by Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi in 2016, would reduce homelessness by bridging the difference between the inadequate public assistance shelter allowance and actual rents for households facing eviction, homelessness, or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous conditions.

Elected officials from both parties throughout the state, including four Borough Presidents and many members of the New York City Council, have recently amplified calls for HSS. This week, the State Senate Committee on Social Services voted to move the Home Stability Support bill S.2375, sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger. HSS is urgently needed, as 254,866 New Yorkers experienced homelessness at some point last year.

In a joint op-ed for the Times Union, Assemblymember Hevesi and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro explained why support for HSS crosses party lines:

Despite being very different elected officials, one of us a Democrat from New York City in the Assembly and the other the Republican county executive of a rural/suburban county, we have come to the same conclusion: New York state needs a new strategy for addressing homelessness focused on prevention and permanent housing, and to do more to provide localities with the tools to help those with severe mental illnesses.

One of the most promising solutions is Home Stability Support (HSS), a state-funded rent supplement for individuals and families facing eviction, homelessness, or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous living conditions. The supplement would cover the difference between the outdated, inadequate shelter allowance and 85 percent of the fair market rent. It would replace existing optional rental supplement programs across the state, while also allowing local governments to raise the HSS rent supplement to 100 percent of the fair market rent if they chose.

More than 82,000 families have rents 1.5 times or higher than their shelter allowances. For example, in New York City in 2016, the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment was nearly $1,600, while the shelter allowance was only $400. This is unsustainable and virtually guarantees evictions and homelessness, increasing the need for far more expensive emergency sheltering.

Although our political leanings are different, we both can easily support this program’s compassionate solution to homelessness and its long-term savings for taxpayers. HSS is estimated to cost roughly $80 million a year, a fraction of the billions spent every year to support the statewide shelter system and other costs related to homelessness, while also eliminating an unfunded mandate for municipalities. For a household of three in New York City, HSS would cost under $14,000 per year; sheltering this same family costs more than $70,100 per year. By implementing HSS, we can reduce shelter populations while freeing up local social service capacity.

HSS strengthens families by creating stability. It encourages employment by including a one-year transitional benefit for households that earn enough to no longer qualify for public assistance, avoiding the “benefit cliff” that creates a financial burden for families seeking to leave public assistance. Stable housing reduces rates of domestic violence and addiction, diminishes likelihood of economic stress and food insecurity, and results in fewer child removals and greater school continuity.

Advocates and lawmakers hope that the “one house” budget plans to be released next week will include funds to implement HSS, and that it will be included in the final State budget agreement to be negotiated with Gov. Cuomo by the end of March. Meanwhile, supporters are meeting with legislators to encourage them to co-sponsor the bills now pending in both the Senate and Assembly (S.2375/A.1620).