A coalition of housing and homeless advocates, along with the city’s top real estate group, are calling for the city and state to expand and improve three key rental assistance programs to aid struggling households at risk for eviction — especially before the state’s eviction moratorium expires in May.

rent strike sign

Sadef Ali Kully

A sign protesting rent collections in Brooklyn during the height of the Coronavirus epidemic.

A coalition of housing and homeless advocates, along with the city’s top real estate group, are calling for the city and state to expand and improve three key rental assistance programs to aid struggling households at risk for eviction — especially before the state’s eviction moratorium expires in May. 

In a report released last week, members of the NYC Eviction Prevention Roundtable recommended New York strengthen three programs  — the Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (FHEPS), CityFHEPS and One-Shot Deal — by expanding their eligibility criteria, creating more flexible requirements and increasing their rent ceilings. All three programs are administered by the city’s Human Resource Administration (HRA).  

“We’re currently standing on the precipice of an unprecedented eviction crisis, which puts countless people at risk of further health and economic impacts,” Lorraine Y. Collins, director of public policy for coalition member Enterprise Community Partners, said in a press release accompanying the report. “By acting now to increase eligibility for existing rental assistance programs, New York’s elected officials can help ensure that many more vulnerable tenants stay in their homes.”

The Family Homelessness Eviction Prevention Supplement (FHEPS), a state program funded by the city, state and some federal monies, provides a monthly rent supplement for households with children who receive cash assistance and who are facing eviction proceedings in court, or have been evicted over the past year. Domestic violence survivors living in the city’s shelter system are also eligible, and the rental supplement can be used for existing or new housing. 

CityFHEPS, a city-funded program, is for homeless New Yorkers living either in city-operated shelters or in the streets for at least 90 days, as well as those who are facing eviction, were formerly homeless or who were evicted in the prior year. Applicants’ household annual income must be less than an estimated $25,000, or 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. 

The city’s One Shot Deal program, funded by the city, state and federal governments, provides one-time emergency cash assistance for households facing an unexpected event or situation. The money can be used to avoid “homelessness, eviction, utility disconnection or pending shut off, fire disaster, domestic violence or circumstances that affect the health and safety of the individual or family,” according to the HRA website. Applications are reviewed by HRA on a case-by-case basis, and applicants generally have to pay back the emergency funding through a repayment agreement with HRA (though it may not be for the entire amount, and those on supplemental security income are not required to repay the emergency grant.)

To improve the reach of these programs, the report recommends waiving the requirement that applicants have an eviction filing in housing court to receive financial assistance under FHEPS and CityFHEPS, which incentives property owners looking to secure arrears “to file non-payment cases rather than to resolve the arrears out of court.” Eviction proceedings are time-consuming and “traumatic” to tenants, the report notes. Instead, applicants should be able to show proof that they are at risk for eviction, such as a demand letter from a landlord. 

Additionally, the city should expand the criteria for who can receive assistance under both programs to also include adults with disabilities, seniors, those aging out of foster care, runaway and homeless youth, hospital discharges, formerly incarcerated individuals who may end up in the shelter system, and those who have lived 15 years or more in their current residence and are facing eviction.

The report also calls on the city to “raise the rent ceilings” for both FHEPS and CityFHEPS to be in line with HUD Section 8 payment standards and Fair Market Rent, an amount determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “Subsidy amounts are simply too low to meet many rent levels,” the report reads. “There are currently no neighborhoods in New York City where median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is affordable with the existing voucher.”

For the One Shot Deal program, the coalition proposes the state waive the requirement that recipients repay the emergency assistance they receive, at least for the duration of the pandemic. The group also thinks the HRA should prioritize certain One Shot Deal applicants in order to “incentivize landlords to come to the table so arrears can be resolved before an eviction filing.” Priority should go to applicants with pre-pandemic eviction judgments, those who are receiving some income and are able to pay rent in the future, applicants who may not have income now but have a good chance of gaining employment, landlords who agree not to pursue eviction in housing court, and for landlord and tenants who have come to an agreement outside of court. 

All three programs — FHEPS, CityFHEPS and One-Shot Deal — should be expanded to include undocumented New Yorkers, the report argues. 

Even prior to the pandemic, the city was already in the midst of a housing and homelessness crisis, with an estimated 60,000 homeless individuals in city shelters on a given night in 2019 and over 24 percent of households paying at least 50 percent of their income towards rent, according to American Community Survey (ACS) data. 

Renters in New York City are estimated to owe roughly $1 billion, according to the Community Housing Improvement Program, a landlord trade association group. The city’s Independent Budget Office (IBO) projected the city’s property tax revenue could see a reduction by $137 million due to the economic impact of the pandemic on property owners. 

“As New York faces unprecedented challenges, it has become even more crucial for real estate industry leaders, nonprofits and advocates to work collaboratively alongside the public sector to expand access to rental assistance and help keep New Yorkers safely in their homes,” James Whelan, President of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), said in a statement.

The coalition’s report was a collaborative effort between Enterprise Community Partners, The Legal Aid Society, Homeless Services United, REBNY, the New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH) and dozens of other housing and advocacy groups that are part of the Eviction Prevention Roundtable.