A statewide organization of mayors announced their support for the Home Stability Support (HSS) plan, a program that would provide rental assistance for vulnerable New Yorkers.
The New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials (NYCOM), which represents 62 cities and 550 villages, endorsed the plan being pushed by Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi of Queens.
They called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to include the plan in the upcoming state budget.
“With homelessness on the rise, much of the burden for providing essential services to vulnerable families falls on municipalities,” said NYCOM executive director Peter Baynes. “Home Stability Support is a fiscally-sound proposal that will help keep more families in their homes, and in the process, ease the growing financial burden local governments face.”
The endorsement came after NYCOM met with Hevesi, who briefed the organization about the proposal.
“Mayors and municipal officials all across New York State are on the front lines of the fight to address homelessness,” Hevesi said in a statement, “running the programs and services families depend on.”
Under the $450 million plan, the state and federal government will pay for a new statewide rental supplement for families and individuals facing eviction, people who are already homeless, and those who recently lost their homes because of domestic violence or hazardous conditions.
The subsidy would cover the 60,000 homeless New Yorkers in addition to 80,000 households experts believe are on the brink of homelessness.
Assemblyman Hevesi explained his program and how it would reduce homelessness during a sit-down visit with this newspaper last week. He said two of the main drivers of the current crisis are rising rents and stagnant wages. The next biggest factor is domestic violence.
Currently, New York City offers a rental subsidy, such as the LINC program, to help move families out of shelters and into stable housing. But Hevesi said LINC only hits a target population, whereas HSS would cover a larger swath of vulnerable people.
Hevesi, who chairs the Assembly’s Committee on Social Services, said Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) have no choice but to build shelters because of the state’s right to shelter policy.
But he said they’re constrained in their options, and without state intervention, the problem is worsening.
“He’s doing everything he can, and he needs help,” Hevesi said, adding that he’s proposing for the state to “pick up the tab.”
Hevesi explained that prior to 1975, the state government paid the rents of those on public assistance in full. In 1975, officials created a “shelter allowance,” which was essentially a rent subsidy. Currently, 171,000 households receive a shelter allowance.
As housing costs continued to rise, the shelter allowance failed to keep pace. According to Hevesi, the shelter allowance for a household of three people ranges from $264 to $447 per month. The federal estimate for a two-bedroom apartment ranges $658 to $1,608 per month.
As a result, two-thirds of households on public assistance live in housing where rents have exceeded the shelter allowance.
In 2003, rather than raising the shelter allowance, state officials created a rental supplement on top of the shelter allowance. But out of 58 social service districts across the state, only 11 district and New York City have opted to provide the additional subsidy.
To address the shortfall that has brought tens of thousands of households to the brink of homelessness, HSS would make up 85 percent of the difference between the shelter allowance and “fair market rent,” Hevesi said.
The new HSS subsidy would replace all existing supplements.
Part of the draw of the program is its cost. According to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2016 State of the State speech, taxpayers pay over $1 billion for the statewide shelter system.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are also spent on programs and shelters for runaway and homeless youth, domestic violence shelters, emergency room costs and soup kitchens. Evictions and housing court costs also explode the rising cost of homelessness.
HSS would ideally cut many of those costs.
Hevesi said HSS would cost just $11,224 per year for a household of three in New York City, and $9,865 per individual. That’s just one-third of what the city currently spends housing homeless families and individuals.
The assemblyman is now taking the HSS plan, first proposed by homeless advocates, and gathering support across the state. He recently received endorsements from 30 city elected officials and Syracuse mayor Stephanie Miner.
Hevesi said Comptroller Scott Stringer is currently “running the numbers,” while state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is also looking at the plan.
He’s speaking with real estate leaders, elected officials and those affected by homelessness in an effort to build a broad coalition.
Hevesi touted the plan as a solution for homelessness, but admitted that in order for it to work longterm, more affordable housing needs to be built. He said he believes the 421-a tax abatement program should be renewed to make that happen.
“You have to build more housing,” he said.