The State Senate and Assembly included a quarter-billion dollars to fund the Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP), which would create a new rent voucher for New Yorkers experiencing or at-risk of homelessness—including immigrants without legal status—with values pegged to fair market rent levels.
A unique state-backed housing subsidy modeled off the federal Section 8 program moved closer to becoming reality Sunday after both chambers of the New York legislature proposed spending $250 million to jumpstart the initiative in their budget plans.
The State Senate and Assembly included a quarter-billion dollars to fund the Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP), which would create a new rent voucher for New Yorkers experiencing or at-risk of homelessness—including immigrants without legal status—with values pegged to fair market rent levels. HAVP would function like the federal Section 8 program, with tenants covering a portion of the rent up to 30 percent of their household income.
The proposed rental assistance program also made it into the Senate’s budget plan last year, but faltered in the Assembly and did not receive support from ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo. With New York mired in dual homeless and affordable housing crises, the measure has gained steady traction in Albany. The HAVP legislation passed both chambers’ housing committees, which are chaired by the bill’s sponsors, State Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, and has earned support from progressive tenant organizations as well as the real estate lobby and landlord interest groups.
A coalition of renter groups and their advocates rallied Wednesday at the State Capitol in support of a host of housing measures, including HAVP, and say they are optimistic Gov. Kathy Hochul will also back the bill. Hochul did not include HAVP in her executive budget plan and her office declined to comment on the specific proposal Friday.
“Governor Hochul’s executive budget includes bold initiatives to embrace this once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in our future, and we look forward to continuing to work with the legislature to finalize a budget that serves all New Yorkers,” Hochul’s spokesperson Avi Small said in a statement.
Legal Aid Society staff attorney Ellen Davidson said the inclusion of the subsidy in the one-house budget was an “extraordinarily positive” step toward addressing the statewide homelessness crisis and potentially relieving a crushing rent burden for thousands of New Yorkers. Rents are increasing for low-income New Yorkers—many of whom are already paying more than half their income on housing—according to data compiled by the real estate site StreetEasy.
The subsidy would allow people at risk of eviction to pay their rent consistently and remain in place, Davidson said. The state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) and nearly two-year eviction protections provided only a temporary reprieve.
“I think it’s clear that we need the Housing Access Voucher Program to continue to recover from COVID,” Davidson said. “We’re still dealing with people who have not recovered their income and have only been able to remain in their homes because of ERAP and what’s going on in housing court, but eventually their time will run out.”
Low-income New Yorkers experiencing or at-risk of homelessness already have access to a patchwork of rent subsidies funded by the city and state, but HAVP supporters said the proposed program would reach far more people, including immigrants without legal status and households working minimum-wage jobs. Half of HAVP funding would cover vouchers for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness, while the rest would go to low-income renters facing “imminent loss of housing,” with formerly homeless tenants receiving priority.
Like Section 8, the program would be administered by local housing agencies—in New York City, that means the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and NYCHA. New Yorkers would qualify for the voucher if they earn less than 50 percent of Area Median Income ($41,800 for an individual and $59,650 for a family of four). They would maintain the voucher until 30 percent of their income equals the total rent.
About 92,000 people statewide lack a permanent address and in January, more than 60,000 people spent time in New York City homeless shelters, according to the most recent data released by city agencies and tracked by City Limits. About 47,000 people stay in Department of Homeless Services shelters each night.
Opposition to the rent subsidy proposal comes down to spending. The amount of money needed to fund the program would only increase as households use the vouchers to cover rents that tend to rise annually, but Kavanagh said savings on shelters, medical treatment and other expenses related to housing instability and homelessness would more than offset the cost to the state. He said he eventually wants the program to have a $1 billion annual budget.
“We talk about managing homelessness, but we haven’t talked about ending it in a long time,” he said. “We as a society ought to have the resources so that no one is lacking housing because of inability to pay. This program could really be part of that.”