New York City lawmakers on Wednesday adopted a new $98.7 billion budget that bolsters a key rental subsidy for homeless residents and restores some funding to social service providers following last year’s cuts.
The record-high spending document, boosted by $14 billion from the federal government, includes various initiatives to move homeless New Yorkers into permanent housing. Those include an increase in the value of CityFHEPS housing vouchers, which cover a year of rent for low-income households—something housing advocates have been pushing for for years.
Budget officials said the city allocated $34 million more to the Human Resources Administration to cover the voucher subsidy increase passed by the City Council earlier this month. The city’s Office of Management and Budget has not published the itemized document yet or shared it with City Limits.
Mayor Bill de Blasio dubbed the spending plan the “recovery budget” and praised it as “one of the greatest investments in working families in this city’s history.”
The voucher increase is the most expensive new investment for tackling homelessness included in the budget. Families of three or four with current CityFHEPS vouchers can only pay for units priced at $1,580 a month; for individuals, it’s just $1,265. Legislation passed by the Council last month, known as Intro. 146, would raise the value of CityFHEPS housing vouchers to Section 8 levels—$1,945 for a one-bedroom apartment or $2,217 for a two-bedroom—and drastically expand the number of units that voucher holders can afford. To qualify, families and individuals must earn no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level (equal to $25,760 for an individual or $43,920 for a family of three).
“I am hopeful that during this fiscal year, Intro. 146 will have a real life impact on getting people into apartments,” said Councilmember Stephen Levin, the chair of the Council’s General Welfare Committee and the bill’s sponsor.
A Council and budget office analysis of the legislation, known as a Fiscal Impact Statement, estimated that the voucher increase would cost about $88.4 million over the first year, while saving the city about $13.6 million. Levin and legislation supporters have said raising the value of the subsidy will ultimately save the city tens of millions of dollars in shelter and service expenses over the first five years.
“I think it’s fair to assume in the first year it will cost money and I’m hopeful it does because then it’s working and will increase the number of people moving out of shelters,” Levin said. “My goal is to get it implemented as quickly as possible, work with landlords and brokers and make sure we’re getting everyone on the same page.”
The Family Homelessnss Coalition (a City Limits funder) said the CityFHEPS funding is “an important step towards preventing shelter entry and to enable those in shelters to quickly exit to permanent housing.”
Citizens Committee for Children (CCC) Executive Director Jennifer March, a coalition member, called on the city to immediately implement the voucher increase. Otherwise, the raise will automatically take effect six months after becoming law—too long a wait for the roughly 48,000 New Yorkers living in shelters, she said.
“It’s a matter of how quickly they can get this out the door. It’s not only funding it, it’s also implementing it,” March said.
March and CCC said the budget did not yet resolve several other important issues affecting children, especially those who are homeless, like WiFi in shelters or community coordinators assisting families with education. The organization said in a statement that policymakers must also specify how the city plans to spend nearly $7 billion in federal education funding in order to assist children who are homeless, in precarious housing or in other vulnerable situations.
“Our city shelters are in desperate need of 150 community coordinators to not only prepare homeless students for school reentry but to connect them to educational and social supports,” CCC said. “Similarly over $140 million in resources are dedicated to addressing heightened behavioral health needs in this budget and yet very little detail is available to illustrate how these resources might be leveraged to meet child and adolescent needs.”
The number of families living in homeless shelters has decreased by a significant margin during the pandemic and in the preceding months, a result of the efforts of DHS and nonprofit workers along with pandemic-related eviction protections that have limited the number of newly homeless families. There were 8,658 families with children in DHS shelters Monday, according to the most recent daily census, compared to 10,767 on an average night in June 2020 and just under 12,000 at the beginning of 2020.
Still, more than 15,000 children slept in a DHS shelter Monday, illustrating the continuing impact of the homelessness and affordable housing crises. The shelter population also includes about 32,000 adults, including roughly 17,000 who stayed in single-adult shelters Monday.
Christine Quinn, the head of family shelter provider Win and a former Council speaker, said the city spending plan, especially the voucher rate increase, will help get more of these New Yorkers out of shelters and into housing.
“Budgets are about more than dollars and cents; they’re about priorities, and it’s fitting that the largest new housing expenditure in the budget will go toward supporting homeless families, because that should be New York City’s top priority,” Quinn said.
The new budget also restores modest discretionary funding, first instituted in 2015, for trauma-informed care training and successful aftercare services to ensure people moving out of shelters continue to maintain stable housing. Six organizations serving families with children, including Win, BronxWorks and Henry Street Settlement, will receive a combined $1.35 million for those programs.
“Homelessness is a chronic problem because often the challenges people face are not completely resolved,” Henry Street Public Policy Vice President Jeremy Reiss told City Limits last year. “So aftercare is a way to provide extensive support after people leave homelessness.”
Advocates had called for the funding to become a standard part of the budget and not dependent on discretionary dollars.
Other newly funded housing services include $4 million to fight corporations that purchase affordable housing and attempt to drive out or evict low-income tenants, and $4.25 million for foreclosure prevention services and legal assistance.
The budget also allocates $1.5 million to organizations that create and oversee community land trusts (CLT), which develop affordable housing through community nonprofit ownership.
“CLTs at scale can truly preserve affordable communities better than any other tool because they put residents in control,” said Councilmember Carlina Rivera at a rally Tuesday, first reported by AMNY.
In a statement, Council Speaker Corey Johnson acknowledged the impact of the budget for organizations that faced funding cuts last year. “This budget will help us fortify our health care systems and allow our local nonprofits to continue serving those in need,” he said.
City Limits’ series on family homelessness in New York City is supported by Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York and The Family Homelessness Coalition. City Limits is solely responsible for the content and editorial direction.