Across the five boroughs, homelessness has become too commonplace. Many of its victims are living on the streets, sleeping in parks, and escaping these cold winter months underground in the subways. An all-time record 63,500 New Yorkers sleep in shelters every night, including over 23,000 children. Every New Yorker should have a right to quality, affordable housing, but we have failed as the largest urban center in the country to deliver that to our most vulnerable communities.
The city’s housing landscape has only further exacerbated the ongoing record homelessness. Since 1993, the five boroughs have cumulatively lost 152,000 rent-regulated apartments, with an additional 130,000 converted to co-ops and condominiums. Government must maximize its capacity to turn the tide on this ever-increasing crisis.
Mayor de Blasio’s plan to combat homelessness was a good start, but its commitment to permanent housing solutions falls short for the magnitude of the emergency we face. His proposed set-aside of five percent of a projected 300,000 new and preserved affordable apartments scheduled to be built between now and 2026 does not address the immediate housing needs for tens of thousands of New Yorkers who are ready to leave the shelter system.
The “House Our Future NY” campaign, which has the support of a broad coalition of advocacy organizations, points out that the mayor’s goal relies largely on preservation of existing units and would create no more than 200 new apartments for homeless families each year through the remainder of City Hall’s housing plan.
We must do better than that.
We must implement a sustainable model for the city that addresses the costs of providing housing both in the immediate and long terms, not only for those in the shelter system, but also those in danger of becoming homeless. Increasing the number of affordable apartments set aside for homeless New Yorkers from 15,000 to 30,000 is necessary and achievable, and would mark an important step at the municipal level to make a dent in homelessness.
However, developing these units is a time-consuming process. Establishing a new rental supplement would begin to address the immediate need.
At the state level, Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi and State Senator Liz Krueger’s Home Stability Support (HSS) plan is the right approach to supporting individuals and families at risk of falling off the edge of the cliff into homelessness.
This proposal would provide a statewide rental supplement for individuals and families who are eligible for public assistance and are facing eviction, homelessness, or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous living conditions. It is much needed at a time when thousands of New Yorkers are faced with a high risk of being homeless and could at any time fall through the cracks into the shelter system or even onto the street.
The Hevesi-Krueger bill would be completely state-funded, and replace existing optional rent supplements such as the Living in Communities Rental Assistance Program (LINC) and the Special Exit and Prevention Supplement Program (SEPS). In addition to eliminating layers of bureaucratic waste, it would create a funding bridge between the current shelter allowance and 85 percent of the fair market rent in jurisdictions as determined by the federal government, providing a significant reduction in costs to taxpayers by preventing evictions, reducing the number of people going into emergency shelters, and offsetting the ancillary costs of other social services like health care and nutritional support. Furthermore, additional state support through HSS would assist the city in streamlining its funding toward greater investment in permanent housing solutions.
With this legislative session being the first in decades when real affordable housing reform is possible, HSS is an important piece of the puzzle, along with reining in preferential rent, reforming vacancy decontrol, unencumbering rent-burdened households in the lottery process, and finally repealing the Urstadt Law.
Without these solutions at the city and state levels, we will continue to see an increase in homeless families and the expansion of homeless shelters, rather than building a sustainable housing supply for both current needs and for the next generation. We cannot accept chronic homelessness as the new normal in urban America. We must raise the bar on the supply of supportive housing we create. Simultaneously, we must abandon the old “safety net” mindset that leaves our neighbors in need on the precipice of crisis, and instead erect “safety ladders” that help families on the cusp of losing or being evicted from their home climb up to new opportunity.
A 22-year veteran of the NYPD and former state senator, Eric Adams has been the borough president of Brooklyn since 2014.