Last Wednesday, Community Board 5 voted in favor of the program being pushed by Queens Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, 32-2, with three abstentions.
Dmytro Fedkowskyj, who heads the board’s Special Committee Regarding Homeless Issues, spearheaded the resolution, which stated that HSS could “stem the tide of displacement” driving record-high numbers of families into homelessness.
In supporting the initiative, the resolution demands that Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature incorporate the program into the state budget and “enact legislation for its successful implementation.”
“It is significantly more cost-effective for taxpayers to keep families and individuals in their homes,” Fedkowskyj said. “We all see that as a win for people who are homeless and it saves taxpayers dollars.”
HSS, a new statewide rent supplement, would assist families and people facing eviction, homelessness or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous conditions. The organizations that came up with the plan, Legal Aid Society and Coalition for the Homeless, estimate that would help 80,000 vulnerable households across the state.
The federally and state-funded program would cover 85 percent of a struggling family’s “Fair Market Rent,” as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Localities would have the option of covering the rest of the rental expenses.
According to the program’s estimates, HSS would cost $11,224 for a household of three in New York City, and $9,865 per individual. By contrast, current temporary shelters cost the city $38,460 per family and $25,925 for every individual.
Fedkowskyj said the plan would reduce the cost to taxpayers by preventing evictions, reduce emergency shelter use, and cut the costs of other homeless services.
“The objective of the program is to keep families in their homes so they’re not put into a system that is very difficult to get out of,” he said.
The federal government will pay for the first five years of the program, which advocates say gives homeless families a window to get back on their feet. The state would pick up the tab after. HSS would replace all existing rental assistance programs, including the city’s LINC program.
Carmen Santana, a member of Community Board 5, called LINC “a horrible program” and a “revolving door” because it allows vulnerable people to become homeless again.
“This program is supposed to eliminate those programs and not end in five years to prevent what you just said, the vicious cycle,” Fedkowskyj said.
Many board members said after the presentation they still had many questions left unanswered. Some wondered whether landlords would accept the program. Others asked how the program would be structured, and if the federal government would fund it under a Trump administration.
Board member Kathleen Knight said there was no mention of the actual day-to-day operation of the program.
“I’m confused about that, the lack of any information about who would administer this and what it would look like,” Knight said. “Frankly, I think it’s a lot of fluff and not a lot of substance.”
Santana questioned how much support it has from reputable organizations and if it can really garner support in Albany, including in the State Senate.
“I would do anything to have one child, if nothing else, off the street and in a nice, warm bed,” she said. “When you’re talking about legislation, who is supporting the bill? You want to ram this thing that’s fluff.”
Other board members countered that ther program is just the start to a solution for homelessness, but what they wanted was an endorsement from the board.
“It’s not going to take someone who is homeless, in a shelter and not working, and get them out of homelessness,” Fedkowskyj said. “This isn’t a one-stop shop that’s going to fix the problem, it’s going to address some of the problem.”
“All the plans we have are not working,” added board member Jerry Drake. “I’m desperate to get something going because it’s a disaster.”
Knight objected to voting on the resolution when they still had many questions about it. She ended up voting against it.
“I wholesale reject the notion that we need to vote on something when we have unanswered questions just because ‘it’s better than nothing,’” she said. “More than anything else, it puts us in a position where if we as a community board and advocates have questions that we wanted answered, we’re in a better position to have those questions answered if we haven’t yet said, 'thumbs up, we think this is great.’
“I don’t think it makes sense for us to give up what is essentially our power as a board,” she added.