“Coming out of this pandemic, addressing our affordable housing and homeless crisis is something that the mayor should be meeting with some urgency and a major expansion of resources,” said Rachel Fee, executive director of New York Housing Conference.

Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

Eric Adams announcing additional funding for Safe Haven shelter beds for homeless New Yorkers on April 24.

Mayor Eric Adams’ revised budget proposal released last week includes an additional $5 billion in capital funding for affordable housing production, and what his administration calls an “unprecedented” investment in shelter beds and services for street homeless New Yorkers.

But housing experts and advocates say the latest funding plan—while an improvement from the mayor’s preliminary budget released earlier this year—still fails to provide enough resources for a city emerging from a pandemic amidst rising rents, mounting eviction cases and nearly 50,000 residents staying in homeless shelters each night.

“Coming out of this pandemic, addressing our affordable housing and homeless crisis is something that the mayor should be meeting with some urgency and a major expansion of resources,” said Rachel Fee, executive director of New York Housing Conference.

“It’s just not enough,” she added. “With the number of households facing eviction in New York, the very serious conditions in NYCHA, you know—we just expected more.”

Falling short of a campaign pledge

The mayor and the City Council have until the end of June to adopt a budget, and housing advocates hope the final plan will include more dedicated funds for building and preserving affordable units. Mayor Adams announced last week that he was committing an additional $5 billion to the city’s 10-year capital housing plan, bringing the total investment to $22 billion over the next decade.

That shakes out to about $2.5 billion in capital housing funds per year, split between the city’s Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) and NYCHA, according to a New York Housing Conference analysis. For the upcoming fiscal year 2023, $2.1 billion would go specifically to HPD to build and preserve affordable units—an increase from the current fiscal year plan.

But it’s still well below the $4 billion for housing that Adams promised he’d commit as a candidate while campaigning for mayor, and it’s not enough to significantly increase the number of affordable units being built each year, particularly in light of rising inflation, land use and construction costs, experts say.

“The additional money will just go for the additional costs, but it’s not going to help us do more housing production,” said Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director for policy at the Coalition for the Homeless, which has called for the city to allocate at least $2.5 billion a year to build new housing for the lowest-income New Yorkers alone. The City Council, in its budget response, called for a total of $4 billion per year for new housing.

The need is high, advocates argue: Rents across the city have surged in recent months, and the Rent Guidelines Board is considering substantial lease increases for those living in the city’s 1 million rent-stabilized apartments. Pandemic eviction protections that had been in place since 2020 expired at the start of the year, leading to a wave of housing court cases. Statewide, New York saw more than 17,000 eviction filings in March and another 10,218 in April, still lower than the pre-pandemic volumes but enough to strain the network of nonprofit attorneys who aid low-income tenants.

Complicating things further, Adams has yet to release a detailed housing plan, though his office has promised one is in the works and will be published in the coming weeks.

But crafting a budget without a larger administrative plan in place makes it difficult to properly set the right pace for the city’s housing production, a process that can take several years between when a project is funded to when apartments actually come online, said Laura Mascuch, executive director of the Supportive Housing Network of New York. “If we lose this year, we don’t have another bite at the apple until the next budget season,” she said.

When asked about his housing capital budget in a briefing last week and the discrepancy between what he promised on the campaign trail, the mayor defended the numbers, saying they’re “higher than where we have been historically.”

“We’re going to continue to evaluate during these tough fiscal times,” he said. “We’re at the highest level right now, and we’re going to continue to work with our housing advocates to get this right. And I’m confident at the end of these four years of my administration, they’re going to see that we are in the targets that we deserve.”

Adams on Sunday joined other city officials in calling for state lawmakers in Albany to pass a bill that would make it easier to convert vacant hotel rooms into residential housing—helping the mayor toward his campaign goal of creating 25,000 new units of supportive and affordable housing by converting such spaces into homes.

An emphasis on street homeless outreach

Since taking office in January, Adams has focused heavily on addressing the presence of homeless New Yorkers in public spaces, ordering increased “sweeps” of encampments and having police officers clear unhoused residents from subway cars and stations.

The mayor has insisted the controversial sweeps are an effort to connect people experiencing homelessness with services and to get them on a path to housing. In mid-April, state-funded “Safe Option Support” (SOS) teams staffed by social service workers began canvassing the subway system, the state’s Office of Mental Health told City Limits—part of the mayor and Gov. Kathy Hochul’s joint Subway Safety Plan unveiled at the start of the year.

READ MORE: Inside NYC’s Street Homeless Sweeps, Rapid Responses and Signs of Futility 

Adams’ executive budget continues this focus on street outreach, allocating more than $170 million per year for services to specifically address the population of homeless New Yorkers who would rather sleep outdoors or on subways than enter the city’s sprawling shelter system.

That funding will go to increasing the number of outreach teams and drop-in centers, like one the city recently opened in The Bronx to connect people coming off the streets with shelter. Most significantly, the budget proposal would cover the creation of some 1,400 Safe Haven and stabilization shelter beds, which have fewer restrictions and tend to be smaller than traditional congregate shelters.

“These resources will encourage people to come inside and will pave a way toward permanent housing and the stability that every New Yorker deserves,” Adams said in announcing the investments, which will bring the city’s total number of these “low barrier” shelter beds to more than 4,000.

“It’s progress. It’s a step in the right direction,” said Nortz, who echoed other advocates who say they would have liked to see that expanded shelter capacity paired with a greater financial investment in new permanent homes.

“That capacity expansion is just gonna get absorbed very quickly if people don’t have a place to go from there,” she added. “The mayor’s plan really only focuses on the near term, and not the long term needs of the city.”

Housing advocates are also awaiting more details about what kind of facilities the new beds will be housed in. Some Safe Haven beds recently touted by the mayor and city officials were still located in group facilities where multiple people share dormitory-style rooms, rather than single-person rooms, as advocates have pushed for.

An 80-bed Safe Haven facility that opened in The Bronx in March.

Adi Talwar

“If they’re not in single rooms, they’re going to be in limited utility,” said Nortz, particularly for those who’ve “experienced theft and exploitation and violence” at congregate shelters in the past and who may still be reluctant to enter the system.

When asked for specifics on how the Safe Haven beds will be structured, a spokesperson for the the city’s Department of Social Services, which operates the Department of Homeless Services, said it will determine “bed configuration based on the capabilities of the building as well as the needs of the client.”

“We have both single, double, and dormitory rooms available for all who need, and we will work closely with clients to ensure we are meeting their needs,” the spokesperson said.

The mayor may face another challenge in bringing the new Safe Haven beds online: community opposition. The city recently scrapped its plans to open a new Safe Haven site in Chinatown, following protests from neighbors who say the neighborhood is already over-saturated with shelter facilities.

“What message does it send to the unsheltered New Yorkers who the city is trying to convince to come inside when the city abandons the types of sites they are touting?” Corinne Low, director of the housing justice group Open Hearts Initiative, said in a statement in response to the city’s decision. “Caving to backlash will not placate opponents of housing and services for homeless New Yorkers—it will only embolden them.”

Keeping housing agencies and nonprofits staffed

Beyond housing construction and shelter capacity, stakeholders also hope final budget will include more resources to keep the city agencies and nonprofit partners that work in housing and homelessness fully staffed—an effort to speed up the long and often arduous path for shelter residents to secure permanent homes.

Adams’ executive budget allocates $10.9 billion in operating funds for the Department of Social Services/Human Resources Administration, which administers the city’s rental subsidy programs, and $2.36 billion for the Department of Homeless Services—a 4 percent and 16 percent decrease, respectively, when compared to the forecasted budget for current fiscal year 2022.

It was not immediately clear how those numbers would impact city agency headcounts, which advocates say have suffered from “serious staffing shortages” that “slow down our ability to get rental assistance and affordable housing leases signed so people can exit shelters,” Catherine Trapani, executive director for the group Homeless Services United, told City Limits in an email.

Christine Quinn, former City Council speaker who now heads the supportive housing provider Win, expressed similar worries. “We know that there is a shortage of at DHS, and HRA right now, as it relates to processing applications for apartments, in particular applications for supportive housing,” she said.

“If we cut that back even further, what that means is people are going to stay longer in shelter, which is going to cost the city more money,” she added. “It also means that people who are trying to get apartments with vouchers may very well lose those apartments, because landlords will have other people who have cash in hand, come forward while they’re waiting for things to be processed.”

In a statement, a DSS spokesperson pushed back against the idea that the budget changes would impact access to services, saying “DSS/HRA and DHS programs that serve homeless families and adults and prevent homelessness continue to be funded and are available to all who qualify.”

“DHS provides shelter to all eligible families and to adults that seek shelter, under the constitutional and legal right to shelter and has invested 100’s of millions in shelter provider rates and salaries, medical and mental health services, security and more—and none of these investments have been cut,” spokeswoman Julia Savel said.

Beyond city government, nonprofit workers across the city—including those who serve homeless populations and help place shelter residents in permanent housing—are pushing for Mayor Adams to include a cost-of-living increase adjustment (COLA) for its city-contracted work.

There are some 110,000 human services workers employed by organizations with city contracts, according to the “JustPay” campaign pushing for the raises, a sector that’s largely made up of women and people of color but where low pay rates lead to high turnover.

Mascuch, director at Supportive Housing Network of New York which represents more than 200 nonprofits that develop and maintain supportive housing, says there’s a 20 percent staffing vacancy rate across their sector.

“These are the outreach workers. These are the shelter workers, these are the people who do case management services and supportive housing,” she explained. “If clients or tenants keep having changing case managers, if they keep leaving because they don’t have the salary that they can then go home and support their family, that’s not great.”

In the state budget approved earlier this month, Gov. Kathy Hochul included a 5.4 percent cost of living increases adjustment for the human services workers the state contracts with, and advocates are hoping the city budget will make the same increase.

“I really think, in the mayor wanting to do much more around homelessness, that you can’t do it without this workforce,” Mascuch said.