Congestion pricing. Education spending. Preventing the affluent from getting doubly taxed by Trump’s new tax plan.
There were a lot of competing priorities to be resolved in this year’s roughly $170 billion New York State budget, which by Friday morning was in the very last stages of negotiation. With a $4.4 billion deficit hanging over Albany, legislators said there wasn’t a lot of leeway for new spending this year.
Still, given the severity of the state’s affordability crisis, housing advocates demanded their legislators take strong action to support and protect renters. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, New York City’s shelter population yet again reached an all-time high of 63,101 people in January.
As details of the final budget emerge, it’s clear that there will be a few modest wins, but nothing of the magnitude that housing activists say is needed to address the rent crisis, as well as some language on state oversight that is concerning to some advocates.
Piloting a rental voucher program
Housing advocates have long called for the creation of Home Stability Support, a state-funded voucher program that would pay the difference between the current shelter allowance of public assistance and the fair market rent for an apartment (the reasonable rent determined by HUD). Sponsor Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi has envisioned a program that would begin in year one with a $40 million allocation, ramping up over five years to an annual $200 million. Such a program, he tells City Limits, could serve 30 to 40 percent of the 80,000 public assistance recipients throughout the state who are in danger of becoming homeless.
The senate and assembly each ended up including $15 million for a new rental subsidy pilot program in their one-house budgets, and the final budget also will include that $15 million. The pilot will supplement the difference between shelter allowance and 100 percent of the fair market rent for up to four years—an improvement above many other existing rental subsidy programs, which provide only an 85 percent reimbursement of the fair market rent, forcing families to pay up more, Hevesi says.
$1.1 million will go to Rochester in Monroe County, which will provide vouchers for about 40 households, and another $13.5 million to New York City, which will serve about 200 households, with the remaining funds to be used to contract with non-profits that will evaluate the program. But the program is intentionally not called Home Stability Support, so as not to give the public the impression that the envisioned subsidy program had been achieved.
“I’m happy that we’re able to help 240 households. I am frustrated that we are not able to stop the increasing growth of the homelessness crisis,” Hevesi tells City Limits. He says that given the deficit cap and the governor’s historic opposition, the legislatures decided it was more feasible to try a small pilot, but that next year he’d continue to fight next year for the full Home Stability Support program.
Still, some advocates are frustrated by the small allocation.
“It’s disappointing on a lot of levels,” says Paulette Soltani of Vocal NY. “If we don’t even have our most progressive leaders going up to bat against Governor Cuomo, then the people’s house isn’t actually fighting for the people.”
A gift with strings attached for NYCHA
While details are still being finalized, as of last night it appeared NYCHA would receive $250 million and that Albany would give New York City the right to use a “design-build procurement process,” which could speed up repair times by allowing the same contract to include both design and construction services. At the governor’s insistence, the budget will also likely include an independent monitor to oversee NYCHA’s operations.
This comes after weeks of feuding between the mayor and the governor over who’s responsible for NYCHA’s woes.
Earlier this month the mayor also criticized the governor for not releasing $250 million allocated in the state budget in the last two years (the governor’s office contends NYCHA was slow to come with a plan for the funds).
$250 million is only a quarter of what the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance has called for: They want to see the state allocate $1 billion annually to the authority.
Supportive housing plan chugs on
Last year, the governor released funding for the first 6,000 units of his 20,000-unit supportive housing plan. Some advocates want funding for more of those 20,000 units released immediately. Others have said that the state needs to commit additional dollars to funding operating contracts for the first 6,000 units of supportive housing.
According to Hevesi, the Senate in fact tried to decrease the operating funding for supportive housing in the social services budget, but that in the final budget operating levels will be flat. He says that next year there will be a fight to allocate funds for more of the 20,000 units.
By press time, City Limits had not determined whether there would be any additional funding for operating contracts within the budget for the Office of Mental Health. [See below for update.]
Unclear funding for tenants with HIV
Some advocates wanted to see funding to ensure that New Yorkers living with HIV and at risk of homelessness paid no more than 30 percent of their income (the city already provides such a program through the HIV/AIDS Services Administration or HASA). Cuomo did include funding in the final budget, but made the program optional for localities, and the funding mechanism is, by multiple accounts, nebulous.
“It’s based off of Medicaid savings and they’re still arguing about how you calculate those savings,” says Hevesi, adding, “I think it’s a good thing, but my concern about that program is that…if it’s just optional for counties, counties are going to be unlikely to do it.”
“We’re then going to have to keep fighting to make it better,” says Soltani.
Governor assumes power over homeless outreach
Shelly Nortz of the Coalition for the Homeless has in the past raised concerns about the governor’s seeming interest in requiring cities to remove mentally ill homeless people from the street against their will.
At the governor’s instance, the final bill includes language that allows the state to deny large amounts funding for things like shelters, cash welfare benefits and rent subsidies to a district that “fails to develop, submit, or implement an approved outreach plan or an approved homeless services plan or to develop or submit homeless services outcome reports consistent with those requirements promulgated by the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.”
Prior to now, localities have not had to submit outreach plans to the state—and the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance has not yet issued any requirements about outreach. Nortz is worried the governor will use this new language to eventually force cities to remove mentally ill homeless people from the streets.
“Frankly, it’s infuriating,” she says.
And no, no changes to rent regulations.
It was a long shot, but some tenant advocates asked, why wait until rent regulations expire in 2019 to make them stronger by eliminating loopholes that allow rent stabilized units to become market rate?
That was far from most legislatures’ mind this year, but it will be another item on the list for next year’s legislative session.
Update: According to Nortz, the Office of Mental Health budget will include $10 million for supportive housing operating costs, far less than what advocates wanted.