Overhaul of Rent Subsidy Program to Fix New York State Homelessness; Save Hundreds of Millions

Homeless Stability Support

Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi. Image Credit: NYAssembly.gov

State Assemblymember may have answer to finally reverse the homelessness trend. Recently, the de Blasio Administration heralded that its efforts to prevent homelessness in New York City have had some success. On September 29, 2016, City Hall announced that thanks to its “unprecedented array of programs” some 7,000 New Yorkers were able to avoid the City’s shelter system. The Department of Homeless Services now shelters 60,000 instead of the projected 67,000 (the projection was largely based on the rapid increase of homeless persons seen after the end of the Advantage program in 2011, approximately 5,000/year). While the population in the City’s shelter system may have been stunted, it continues to grow.

Recently, a State Assemblymember has been pushing a new state program to address not only New York City’s growing homeless population, but also the entire State’s growing condition. Right now 130,000 children are homeless in New York State, 24,000 of which are located in New York City. Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi has called for a new rent subsidies program to be passed by the State Legislature to address this. The program, Home Stability Support, would provide rent subsidies for New York families facing homelessness or eviction. According to Hevesi, in New York City Home Stability Support would cost $11,224 per year for a household of three in direct rent subsidies, compared to the $38,460 it costs for housing that same family of three in the City’s shelter system—saving the taxpayer $27,236 per household per year. That drastic savings could be duplicated statewide as well, saving $46,744 per household per year in Westchester County, and $27,713 per household per year in Monroe County. Home Stability Support would also lower the costs to care for homeless individuals, saving $16,060 per person per year in New York City.

Proponents of Home Stability Support project argue that the law would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The reduced use of shelters would lower temporary housing costs and allow shelters to close. Costs for soup kitchens, emergency room visits, law enforcement, housing court, and various homeless programs could be avoided as well. Additionally, the NYC Bar Association found that preventing 5,237 evictions for households likely to enter shelters would save $251 million per year in New York City alone.

Hevesi’s efforts coincide with the release of the final report in an eight-year inquiry conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine what housing and services programs worked best for homeless families—long term housing subsidies, project-based transitional housing, community-based rapid re-housing, or usual care. For a three-year experiment, HUD randomly chose and tracked 2,200 families, including over 5,000 children, in 12 communities across the country. Each family was randomly assigned one of the four housing programs.

HUD’s investigation found that priority access to long-term housing subsidies led to the highest reduction in long-term family homelessness. Additionally, long-term housing subsidies led to reductions in (1) children separated from the family, (2) the family head’s psychological distress, (3) partner violence, (4) evidence of alcohol and drug problems, (5) the number of schools attended by children, (6) the number of school absences, (7) child behavior problems, and (8) food insecurity. HUD also tracked the monthly cost of the housing service programs and found that on average long-term subsidies costs $1,172 per family per month compared to $4,819 per family per month for emergency shelters. The report concluded that “homelessness is a housing affordability problem that can be remedied with long-term housing subsidies without specialized services.

The proposed Home Stability Support legislation would be entirely Federal- and State-funded and would replace all existing optional rent supplements. It is predicted that 80,000 households would be eligible for the program when passed. The program would include a one-year transitional benefit for households that increase their income enought to leave public assistance. According to Assemblymember Hevesi, “People need to recognize that the homeless crisis is not just a New York City crisis alone. It is a statewide problem, and it is ripping up communities.”

By: Jonathon Sizemore (Jonathon is the CityLaw Fellow, author for www.CityLandNYC.org, and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2016).

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