Op Ed: This Bill Can Help End NY Homelessness

Originally published in Daily News


This bill can help end NY homelessness

By State Senator Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal
October 22, 2021

With relatively little fanfare, the Legislature recently passed legislation with the power to quickly improve the lives of thousands of New York families. Once enacted, the bill would permanently raise the amount of rental assistance available from the Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (FHEPS) program to enable families to lease apartments at rents up to the full fair market rent.

As the bill’s lead sponsors, we know that this legislation will help many families with children who are facing eviction or experiencing domestic violence find safe and stable permanent housing. It will represent a significant shift away from offering these families temporary shelter and may provide a national model of a practical reform that can be implemented in other states facing widespread housing instability.

Our bill will soon head to the desk of Gov. Hochul, for her signature — and with it, the opportunity for Hochul to powerfully demonstrate her commitment to creating housing stability for all New Yorkers.

The state FHEPS program provides crucial rental assistance to families with children who are facing eviction or other threats to their housing stability, such as domestic violence. In a groundbreaking case, Jiggetts vs. Grinker, the state Court of Appeals held that the public assistance “shelter allowance” for families with minor children in New York City must bear a reasonable relation to the actual cost of housing. The shelter allowance does not currently bear a reasonable relation to the cost of housing in New York City — and we passed this bill to remedy the issue.

Because the existing FHEPS voucher covers only 85% of fair market rent, many families have not been able to use the voucher to find housing. By increasing the amount of assistance, the state will enable thousands of New Yorkers to move into stable homes or to remain housed.

That is why this bill is backed by a broad and diverse coalition of organizations and advocates, such as the Legal Aid Society, representing pro bono legal services; Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable housing champion; the Real Estate Board of New York, representing the state’s for-profit real estate industry; and many more.

If signed, the legislation will be a big step toward building a more equitable New York where every family has a home. And the bill will ultimately save the state money by preventing families from entering the shelter system or incurring the expense of other costly public interventions.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, this measure was overdue. There are currently no neighborhoods in New York City where the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is affordable to a family with an existing voucher, rendering the current state FHEPs voucher all but useless to the vast majority of families.

The pandemic continues to remind us that a person’s housing stability is a key social determinant of health. As of June 2021, there were 54,136 people, including 16,148 children, sleeping each night in the New York City shelter system. And with the ongoing surge of the delta variant, we must take every action necessary to keep New Yorkers safely housed, especially as New York’s unemployment rate remains around 7.7%, exceeding the national average. That includes making it as easy as possible for New Yorkers to remain stably housed, while also allowing landlords to maintain their income.

While we forcefully championed the state eviction moratorium and the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which have been critical lifelines, both of these are only temporary, emergency fixes. New York was suffering a crisis of housing affordability long before COVID-19, which has been worsened by the pandemic and its economic fallout. And despite the struggling economy, rents in New York City have reversed the dip we saw last year and are once again climbing upwards, with New York surpassing San Francisco this year as the most expensive apartment rental market in the country. The state must implement meaningful, long-term solutions now to keep families housed and prevent an eviction and homelessness crisis.

In her first days in office, Gov. Hochul signaled her commitment to keeping New Yorkers stably housed. In her words, “No New Yorker who has been financially hit or displaced by the pandemic should be forced out of their home.” The state has already made significant strides, under her leadership, to live up to that commitment. We hope the governor will join us in recognizing that we need solutions to housing instability that will last beyond the pandemic and sign this bill into law.

Rosenthal chairs the Assembly Committee on Social Services; Kavanagh chairs the Senate Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development.