“For far too long, New York’s leaders have focused on stemming the tide of homelessness, and then struggling to meet that low bar. Mayor Eric Adams can change this with a visionary housing and homelessness plan and a budget to match.”

PATH Center

Adi Talwar

Department of Homeless Services’ Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH) intake center in the Bronx, located at the intersection of East 151 Street and Walton Avenue.

Tens of thousands of children and their parents are staying in a New York City shelter tonight—many of whom will be stuck there for the better part of two years due to the lack of affordable housing in the city.

For far too long, New York’s leaders have focused on stemming the tide of homelessness, and then struggling to meet that low bar. Mayor Eric Adams can change this with a visionary housing and homelessness plan and a budget to match. He can commit to effectively ending family homelessness.

It’s also an opportune time to do so with a recent influx of federal rental vouchers, a strong partner in the Hochul administration, and new leaders in both City Hall and City Council who have had direct experience living with housing instability, and know what the root causes are and how to fix them.

We also have to make family homelessness a priority now before the bough breaks. Families are bracing for the largest rent hike on rent-stabilized units in almost a decade, especially in our lowest income districts, such as Council District 14, where the median annual income is $21,000.

Already, one missed paycheck or a health emergency is all it takes for countless families to be at risk of losing their home. A recent report from the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York found that more than half of New York City households living in or near poverty are severely rent burdened, and a third of area tenants with children reported they were behind on rent between August 2020 and July 2021.

At the root of this crisis is inequality, but the extreme shortage of affordable housing is exacerbating the challenges thousands of New York families already face. Just last week, a new report was released confirming what those of us working in affordable housing already knew to be true—there’s a less than 1 percent vacancy rate for apartments for the lowest income New Yorkers, which includes families making $28,000 a year, or 30 percent of the area median income.

It is urgent for our city to adequately invest in the preservation and new construction of deeply affordable housing. The mayor’s executive budget commitment of $5 billion in capital funds for housing over the next 10 years is not enough to meet the need and it is a fraction of his campaign pledge of $4 billion annually. New York City must invest $4 billion in housing per year and focus on offering units at deeper levels of affordability, so that families with the lowest incomes can qualify and remain stably housed.

We also need sufficient funding in the budget to staff up the city agencies that facilitate affordable housing in New York—those units in the Human Resources Administration, the Department of Homeless Services, the Commission on Human Rights and Source of Income discrimination unit, and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development—that manage affordable housing projects, but also process the paperwork, conduct inspections, and play other critical roles in moving thousands of New Yorkers out of shelter and into homes.

The stress of staffing shortages has led to significant service backlogs, creating obstacles that prevent agencies from meeting the immediate needs of families experiencing housing instability. Critical staffing shortages at HPD have substantially slowed down the vital pipeline of affordable housing that New York City desperately needs, only costing the city more money in exorbitant shelter costs and interest fees on projects waiting year after year for financing.

The mayor can and should also commit to fully funding the expansion of CityFHEPS in the adopted budget—a surefire way to prevent more families from having to go through the trauma of homelessness. It’s time to relieve program requirements that essentially require homelessness as a precondition to voucher eligibility, and instead make CityFHEPS accessible as an upstream prevention tool to keep families in their homes and out of shelter to begin with.

We also hope to see myriad process improvements in the Mayor’s Housing and Homelessness Plan—starting with making the referral system into the city’s homeless set-aside and supportive housing units more streamlined and equitable, and a commitment to continued partnership with those who have lived experience and those of us doing the work on the ground and see first-hand what’s working and what’s not.

Our city has been at the center of the national family homelessness crisis, with more than a quarter of all Americans experiencing family homelessness living in the five boroughs. It’s time— past time—to flip that awful statistic and become a leader in ending family homelessness. A comprehensive housing plan and a budget that matches can begin that process.

Pierina Ana Sanchez represents New York City Council District 14 in The Bronx, and is the chair of the Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings. Nicole Branca is the executive director of New Destiny Housing, a co-convener of the Family Homelessness Coalition.

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 responsible for all editorial decisions.