The new budget directs $2.4 billion to homeless services in the coming fiscal year, invests billions more in housing over the next decade and funds an increase to rental assistance programs, but is nevertheless facing criticism from advocates who say the spending plan fails to adequately address New York City’s affordability and homelessness crises.
As the dust settles on New York City’s new $101 billion budget—and everyday residents are actually able to read the documents—housing and homeless advocates are tallying the wins and losses amid a deepening affordability crisis.
The new budget, approved late Monday, directs $2.4 billion to homeless services in the coming fiscal year, invests billions more in housing over the next decade and funds an increase to rental assistance programs, but is nevertheless facing criticism from advocates who say the spending plan fails to adequately address New York City’s affordability and homelessness crises.
The City Council approved the budget two weeks before its due date—raising eyebrows during a typically opaque process—with support from a large majority of members. The early vote marks a political victory and major milestone for Adams, who won approval on some key initiatives, even if the total spending failed to live up to his campaign promises when it comes to housing.
“This budget promotes an equitable recovery for New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs,” Adams said in a statement following the Council vote.
Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, no relation to the mayor, said the body “secured historic reforms, bringing greater transparency to ensure communities are being met with the services they deserve.”
Still, a handful of progressive members voted against the spending plan, citing a lack of significant investment in affordable housing and social services.
“This Adopted Budget would be a commitment to only march forward slowly, leaning on incremental progress while looking toward some distant date to declare victory and liberation,” Brooklyn Councilmember Chi Ossé tweeted Monday night following his “no” vote.
The budget reduces spending for the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) from about $2.8 billion last year to $2.4 million in the coming fiscal year, largely the result of a decrease in federal COVID-related funding. Queens Councilmember Tiffany Cabán said the Council has “much to be proud of,” such as fending off deeper cuts to DHS, but said she was voting no because the plan did not include a “dramatic shift” from spending on policing—roughly $11 billion to the NYPD—and jails and into social services.
Advocates acknowledged that the new budget includes more money for housing than recent plans, but said they were disappointed with the final outcome and were waiting to see how the spending plan relates to Mayor Adams’ new housing plan, which he was scheduled to unveil Tuesday.
With median rents reaching record highs, evictions increasing and the city mired in a nationwide inflation, more resources are needed to unlock affordable housing for more New Yorkers, said New York Housing Conference (NYHC) President Rachel Fee.
“While this budget agreement marks a significant increase over years past on housing, it still falls far short of what is needed to address a housing and homelessness emergency that is rapidly growing worse,” Fee said.
New housing development
More than 61,000 people spent at least one night in a New York City homeless shelter in April, according to the most recent citywide data tracked by City Limits as part of a daily census project. Each night, there are more than 48,000 New Yorkers, including 15,200 children, in the DHS system alone, the data shows.
At the root of the homelessness crisis is a dwindling number of units priced for low-income New Yorkers. Adams and most members of the City Council took office pledging to tackle the problem.
The new budget, approved a day before Adams unveiled his much-anticipated housing plan, adds about $5 billion for affordable and public housing over the next 10 years, a sum that increases the city’s total investment to around $22 billion for the decade. At a press conference last week, Adams said new development will include income-restricted units affordable to more low-income New Yorkers, even with a tax abatement program for residential developers set to expire.
“We have to build and I think we can get there to make sure we get the affordable ratio that people are looking for,” Adams said June 10. “Now, we are investing an additional $5 billion compared with the $17 billion, $22 billion, that’s the largest. These numbers are unprecedented.”
The total allotment equates to about $2.5 billion in annual capital funds for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and NYCHA, according to a NYHC analysis—an increase, but not quite as much as the $4 billion yearly sum Adams pledged as a candidate.
“We were disappointed that the housing budget does not recognize the urgent housing crisis as well as the impact of inflation,” Coalition for the Homeless Policy Director Jacquelyn Simone told City Limits. Her organization had 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 amount included in the final budget deal will likely be enough only to maintain current levels of affordable housing production, “rather than increasing production with greater depths of affordability, which is what this moment demands,” Simone said.
“Even though it is a historic level of housing funding, it still falls short of the need,” Simone said, They were hoping for more, she added, especially in light of Mayor Adams’ heightened focus “on the visibility of homelessness” since taking office, which has included an “aggressive” campaign to move homeless New Yorkers out of public spaces.
“We would much rather see the focus on getting people permanent homes, rather than just pushing them out of sight,” she said.
Comptroller Brad Lander also said the capital plan fails to meet the current need for affordable housing.
“With median asking rents spiking and affordable housing availability shrinking drastically, our housing crisis should be top priority,” Lander said in a statement. “This budget fails to meet the needs of this urgent moment with the level of capital funding needed for affordable, supportive and public housing.”
Fully funding CityFHEPS vouchers
Last year, New York City raised the value of city-issued rental assistance vouchers to better reflect actual market rates. The new law included an annual increase to keep pace with fair market rents established by the federal government and used to determine Section 8 levels. Last month, the city made good on the increase and raised rates once again.
Adams and the City Council agreed to allocate $237 million to fund CityFHEPS vouchers in the new budget. The allotment earned praise from the Family Homelessness Coalition (a City Limits funder).
“At a time when thousands of New York City families are experiencing homelessness or on the brink of losing their homes, we applaud Mayor Adams and the City Council for advancing a budget that prioritizes rental assistance and helps ensure that more families with children will have the support they need to thrive,” the organization said in a statement.
Tackling voucher discrimination
Despite the voucher rate increase, many New Yorkers with rental assistance subsidies are still locked out of housing. The problem is a mix of an onerous application and approval process on the part of city agencies, and virulent discrimination by property owners, managers and brokers who deny, ignore or steer away voucher holders looking to rent a place. The practice, known as Source of Income (SOI) discrimination, is the city’s most common form of housing discrimination based on complaints to the Commission on Human Rights (CCHR).
But, as City Limits has continued to report over the past year, the city enforcement units tasked with tackling SOI discrimination have gradually eroded. The last full-time staffer in CCHR’s SOI Unit left the agency in April.
The first step to better enforcement may be admitting there’s a problem—something Mayor Adams did at a press conference June 10.
“Our Human Rights Commission is going to go after those who are ignoring people who have vouchers,” Adams said. “There’s far too many people who have vouchers in homeless shelters because people are discriminating against them. We’re going to do tests and we’re going to identify who they are and we’re going to hold them accountable.”
The remarks were a welcome sign for fair housing advocates who have urged the city to aggressively tackle SOI discrimination.
“The news that New York City will be increasing funding for the Source of Income unit is a promising sign,” said Aaron Carr, the founder and executive director of Housing Rights Initiative (HRI), which pursues impact litigation against some of the city’s largest real estate companies, following months-long discrimination investigations.
But, he added, “as with all things in life and legislation, the devil is in the details and execution.”
The new budget includes $452,000 for six new CCHR SOI staffers, though those appear to be the same staff members now working in a similar enforcement unit at the Human Resources Administration.
Adding SafeHaven and Stabilization beds amid end of line crackdown
Mayor Adams has countered criticism of his street homelessness enforcement strategy—which includes ratcheting up “sweeps” of public encampments—by pointing to greater investment in alternative shelter options for New Yorkers who would rather sleep outdoors or on subways than enter the city’s sprawling congregate shelter system.
The budget includes $171.3 million to expand funding for drop-in centers, Safe Haven and stabilization beds, which have fewer restrictions and tend to be smaller than typical homeless shelters. That is enough to create 1,400 of these new so-called “low barrier” beds, what the mayor has touted as an “unprecedented investment” in resources specifically for the street homeless population.
“Too many of our fellow New Yorkers are experiencing unsheltered homelessness — but we cannot and will not abandon them,” Adams said in announcing the funding earlier this year.
The mayor’s office reports that more than 1,300 people experiencing homelessness have accepted placement in Safe Havens, stabilization beds and shelters in the first three months since Adams launched an initiative to drive people off the trains and out of end-of-line stations. It is unclear, however, how many of those individuals were repeat moves, how many people actually checked in to the facilities and how long they stayed.
“Our main focus and goal is … garnering that trust with them because once they come in, we consider that a positive because, again, it gives us the opportunity to understand what their circumstances are,” DHS Commissioner Gary Jenkins said at a Council hearing last month.
DHS has not provided information detailing that data and City Limits has requested the records through the Freedom of Information Law.
The number of people staying in SafeHavens has indeed increased in recent months and now hovers around 1,500, according to daily census figures tracked by City Limits
The continued effectiveness of those new shelter beds will depend on the details, advocates say, including the type and size of the facilities they’re located in. Some new Safe Haven beds are within group facilities where multiple people share dormitory-style rooms, rather than the single-person rooms that many advocates and people experiencing homelessness have pushed for.“If they’re not in single rooms, they’re going to be in limited utility,” Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director for policy at the Coalition for the Homeless, told City Limits last month.
The new beds also accompany increased policing at end of line subway stations—efforts that can backfire by plunging homeless New Yorkers into the criminal justice system, diminishing trust in outreach workers and simply moving people along rather than securing them housing and services.
“It’s really regrettable the City Council is supporting punitive measures against homeless people,” said Craig Hughes, a social worker with the Safety Net Project of the Urban Justice Center.
Improving staff numbers
Staff shortages have hit city agencies and nonprofit providers that deal with housing hard since the COVID pandemic began, complicating efforts to move people out of shelters and into permanent homes.
Similar staffing problems at HPD have also plagued affordable housing development, with roughly 400 positions unfilled, Commercial Observer reported. HPD Commissioner Adolfo Carrión addressed the shortages at a supportive housing conference June 2.
“We’ve lost hundreds of people. Literally hundreds of people—inspectors, project managers, attorneys,” Carrión said. “The global pandemic really impacted everybody, including government.”
Part of the problem is that HPD is “a great training ground for professionals in real estate,” Carrión said. “We’re an incubator,” he added, referring to staffers who move to the private real estate sector. “We start businesses at HPD.”
The budget includes $19.2 million for additional staff and services at the department. Carrión said the agency is “aggressively” hiring and aims to fill 77 new positions, while “backfilling hundreds” more.
The budget also earmarked $60 million to boost wages for the city’s nonprofit workers, including shelter workers, case managers and other in the housing realm who play an important role in getting and keeping vulnerable New Yorkers housed.
There are more than 110,000 human services workers employed by organizations with city contracts, according to the “JustPay” campaign pushing for the increases. But the sector, largely made up of women and people of color, suffers from low pay that leads to high turnover.
That’s particularly impactful in the supportive housing sector, where about 20 percent of staff positions were vacant in 2021, according to the Supportive Housing Network of New York—a shortage that slows down the process for approving and placing people in vacant units.
The funding included in the final budget will allow for a 4 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for these city-contracted workers, shy of the 5.4 percent bump that advocates have been pushing for (which would have matched the wage increases for human services workers set by the state and Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier this year).
Michelle Jackson, executive director of the Human Services Council, called the budget boost “a partial victory” and “an important first step toward fair wages.”
“While this 4 percent investment gets us a significant amount of the way there, this figure only accounts for half of the current rate of inflation,” Jackson said in a statement. “As a result, it does not actually keep pace with the cost of living, as it is intended to.”