Reducing and preventing homelessness

The strongest evidence of New York City’s worsening affordability crisis is the fact that homelessness has soared to the highest levels since the Great Depression.  Currently more than 53,000 homeless New Yorkers, including more than 22,000 children, sleep each night in municipal shelters.  During the Bloomberg administration, the homeless shelter population rose by 71 percent and the number of homeless families increased by a remarkable 83 percent.

The major causes of record New York City homelessness are the widening gap between housing costs and incomes, and disastrous Bloomberg-era policies that took away permanent housing resources from homeless children and families. 

Mayor de Blasio and his administration can reverse these failed polices by embracing housing-based solutions to the problem of homelessness that have been proven to reduce the number of homeless families and individuals.

1. Prioritize existing federal and city housing resources to move homeless families and individuals from the shelter system into permanent housing.
The City should:

  • Resume priority referrals of at least 2,500 homeless households per year to the NYCHA public housing waiting list.
  • Resume referrals of homeless households to Section 8 voucher waiting lists, such that homeless households can obtain at least one of every three available vouchers.
  • Reinstate the NYCHA waiting list priority status previously granted to homeless applicants for both the public housing and Section 8 voucher programs.
  • Track vacant properties and rental units, and put them to use by converting the units to permanently affordable housing.
  • Target homeless families and individuals at least one of every five vacancies in existing housing units assisted by the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
2. Create a new city-state rental assistance program for homeless New Yorkers to supplement existing federal and city housing resources.
Such a program should:
  • Assist at least 5,000 households annually;
  • Be a permanent subsidy or at least offer five years of rent subsidy per eligible household;
  • Be modeled on the proven Federal Section 8 voucher program (this includes provisions that rent subsidies are not linked to welfare benefits; program participants pay no more than 30% of their income towards rent; apartments must meet Section 8-style housing quality standards; and rent levels are in line with Section 8 “Fair Market Rents”);
  • Provide a mechanism to ensure housing stability for those homeless households with members with disabilities or other barriers to employment who cannot otherwise afford to retain housing if they lose the subsidy
  • Be connected to proven, permanent solutions, ensuring that recipients of time-limited subsidies get a priority application for Section 8 and NYCHA
3. Create new affordable housing targeted to homeless New Yorkers as part of Mayor de Blasio’s ten-year housing development plan.
Building on the successful approach of Mayor Koch’s ten-year “Housing New York” plan, which targeted 10% of the 150,000 apartments created to homeless New Yorkers, Mayor de Blasio’s new ten-year plan should:
  • Allocate at least 10% of all housing units created or preserved to homeless families and individuals;
  • Ensure that those housing units are set aside for future homeless New Yorkers when tenants leave those apartments; and
  • Track vacant properties and rental units, and put them to use by converting the units to permanently affordable housing.
4. Negotiate a new city-state agreement to create permanent supportive housing.

The new “New York/New York Agreement” agreement should:
  • Create 30,000 units of permanent supportive housing over ten years for homeless individuals and families living with mental illness and other special needs, in particular homeless individuals residing on the streets and in other public spaces;
  • Half of the new supportive housing units should be new construction, and half should be scattered-site apartments;
  • Continue to prioritize those with long histories of homelessness and illness;
  • Provide adequate funding to operate housing and provide support services; and
  • Two-thirds of the units (20,000 units) should be for individuals, with the remaining one-third of units for families (8,700 units) and youth (1,300 units).
5. Convert “cluster-site” shelter units back to permanent housing.
The City can convert “cluster-site” shelter units back to permanent housing to help significantly reduce the number of homeless families:
  • Move homeless families stranded in “cluster-site” units to permanent housing with priority referrals to federal housing programs or using rent subsidies.
  • Provide City-State rent subsidies to allow families in “cluster-site” units that meet Section 8 quality standards to secure leases for the very apartments in which they already reside.
  • Finally, the City should commit to a definitive public timeline to reduce – and ultimately eliminate – City reliance on “cluster-site” shelter while instituting strong deterrence measures to safeguard against the harassment of tenants in former “cluster-site” buildings by property owners.
6. Invest in cost-saving programs to prevent homelessness.

To better prevent homelessness, the City should:
  • Coordinate prevention services among prevention agencies so that at-risk families and individuals know where to go to get help.
  • Enhance funding for anti-eviction legal services to help many more low-income tenants avert eviction in housing courts.
  • Increase funding for rent arrears, which will ensure that more families can avoid costly emergency shelter and remain in their own homes.
  • Negotiate with the State to administer the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement (FEPS) program at neighborhood welfare offices and/or other sites, to make the FEPS benefit more widely available to at-risk families.
  • Seek immediate approval from the State to increase FEPS subsidy rent levels equivalent to those in the Section 8 program. Remove restrictions that prevent families from accessing the FEPS subsidies, such as the requirement that the family be sued in Housing Court, exposing them to inclusion on the "Black Lists" at tenant screening bureaus.
  • Support State legislation to expand access to the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) program by including families with a family member with disabilities who is not head of household (i.e., minor and adult children); all military veterans with disabilities; and former workers and disability income recipients with incomes up to $29,000 per year.