New York families struggling to afford housing got some good news last week in the form of a bill signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The move, which targets New York City, increases the value of the state’s rental assistance program for families who are homeless or facing imminent eviction, giving them increased access to the city’s high-cost housing market.
We join the advocates for the homeless and real estate groups who have applauded this measure.
It means that the possibility of a stable home will now be available for up to 2,300 more families, enabling them to move from temporary shelters or doubling up with relatives because they can’t afford housing.
About 12,400 families currently use housing vouchers, known as FHEPS vouchers under the Family Homelessness and Eviction Protection Supplement program. These vouchers are valued at 85 percent of the federally defined market rate for rental apartments in a particular region.
Under the law signed by Gov. Hochul, vouchers can now be applied to 100 percent of the market rate set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which in New York City is $2,026 for a two-bedroom apartment.
The price of the expanded program is relatively high—adding an estimated $69 million more per year to the $80 million the state currently pays for the program—but not outrageously so, especially taking into account savings likely to come from decreased shelter use.
As with most programs aimed at alleviating the region’s seemingly intractable problem of homelessness, this one is not perfect. Many landlords will not accept vouchers as payment, even though it’s illegal to refuse them, and there’s a lot of red tape involved for landlords and families alike.
Also, vouchers are just one step in alleviating homelessness. Other direct measures include ensuring that our existing public housing projects are in good repair and able to accommodate eligible tenants; converting hotels and other unoccupied commercial spaces into housing; keeping in place the requirements that new multiple-dwelling construction set aside a percentage of affordable units if they expect a tax break; and encouraging the development of new affordable housing using zoning changes if need be.
It’s also true that the voucher program will not materially affect the number of street homeless, the single adults who often have mental health or addiction issues and are difficult to connect with services. These are the people that most New Yorkers envision when they think of the homeless population, and the one that people see as the major problem.
Still, it’s a positive thing that New York has an active program—imperfect though it is—to assist homeless families, especially those with children. Many families in this situation are headed by one or more working adults whose minimum wage jobs do not produce enough income to afford the going rates for rent.
The state is trying to help them, said Gov. Hochul at the bill signing, because “these are God’s children.”
“This step today will go a long way to giving people a gift they never expected this holiday season, and that is their own home,” she said.
We heartily approve.