‘Our state and federal governments have a moral responsibility to go beyond emergency measures and implement systemic, long-term solutions that will direct more public resources to preventing eviction and homelessness.’
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated some of the greatest challenges facing our communities—and its devastating impacts have worsened what was already a housing instability crisis in New York City. Our city’s perpetual lack of housing affordability has always been first and foremost a humanitarian problem. Without a stable home, it is nearly impossible for a person to maintain steady employment, support a family, or ensure their own health and safety. In 2019 —before the pandemic—an average of 59,509 individuals were staying in NYC Department of Homeless Services (DHS) shelters each night, including 22,000 children, and a quarter of renter households were paying at least 50 percent of their income towards rent.
New York State’s decision to implement and extend a moratorium on evictions through May of this year is a critical short-term measure to protect vulnerable residents. But it’s not a long-term solution, and many of those in danger of losing their home now will still be at risk months from now. Our state and federal governments have a moral responsibility to go beyond emergency measures and implement systemic, long-term solutions that will direct more public resources to preventing eviction and homelessness, both now and for years to come.
The encouraging news is that there are straightforward solutions that would help tens of thousands of New Yorkers quickly. Reforms recommended by the NYC Eviction Prevention Roundtable would ensure that more low-income households can access existing rental assistance programs and do so sooner, before they face the threat of eviction. People should not have to reach a point of crisis before accessing the help available to stabilize their housing situation.
The proposed reforms include changes to the state’s Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (FHEPS), CityFHEPS, and One Shot Deal programs to expand eligibility for rental assistance and help prevent evictions in communities across New York.
The state recently waived—temporarily—the requirement of an eviction filing in order for New Yorkers to receive aid from the FHEPS and CityFHEPS rental assistance. While this is particularly critical right now as the eviction moratoria prevent tenants from qualifying for these programs, the state must make this change permanent.
One Shot Deals, a form of emergency rental assistance, do not require an eviction filing to access aid. However, too few people know that, resulting in countless New Yorkers needlessly going through the trauma of eviction to access this aid. State officials must clarify the eligibility criteria for tenants, property owners and staff members implementing the program to ensure more vulnerable households can access the necessary support.
Equally as important, the state must remove the requirement that applicants repay One Shot Deals and demonstrate future ability to pay. In these unprecedented times, with record levels of unemployment, most tenants cannot meet these eligibility requirements. We cannot afford to erect barriers to crucial resources for New Yorkers.
These are just a few of the pivotal systemic reforms recommended by the Roundtable—and they can be enacted by city and state officials without any federal government approval. In fact, some of these reforms are on the table to be included in the state budget that will be negotiated in the coming days.
We encourage the state to move quickly to ensure that these program improvements are included as part of the final enacted budget.
There is no time to waste. As the humanitarian fallout of the pandemic continues, we are hopeful that our elected officials and policymakers will recognize their duty to take action now.
Lorraine Collins is senior director of public policy and external affairs, New York for Enterprise Community Partners, which co-leads The NYC Eviction Prevention Roundtable. Bea de la Torre is Managing Director of Housing and Homelessness at Trinity Church Wall Street, which provides funding for Enterprise’s policy and advocacy work.