Unmentioned at Friday’s press conference and ceremonial signing is a new work requirement to qualify for a voucher—10 hours per week for adult-only households. Previously, adult households only had to demonstrate they had worked any number of hours per week for the last 30 days in order to qualify for a City Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement, or CityFHEPS, voucher.
Before signing an emergency rule on Friday eliminating the 90-day waiting period for shelter residents to apply for city-issued rental vouchers, Mayor Eric Adams used a river analogy. “There are many rivers that are feeding the sea of homelessness,” he said. “Today, we are damming one.”
But a review of the six-page notice reveals that his pen strokes opened up a new rivulet. Unmentioned at Friday’s press conference and ceremonial signing is a new work requirement to qualify for a voucher—10 hours per week for adult-only households.
Additionally, a 14-hour work requirement for families with children has been cut to 10. This marks the second reduction in work requirements for families in shelter since November, when the administration reduced it from 30 hours to 14.
“This change will create uniformity across populations in shelter,” according to Friday’s order, which maintains exceptions for those over the age of 60, as well as people receiving federal disability benefits.
Previously, adult households only had to demonstrate that they had worked “any number of hours” per week for the last 30 days in order to qualify for a City Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement, or CityFHEPS, voucher.
Under the program, established in 2018, most voucher holders pay part of their income in rent, up to 30 percent, and the city covers the rest, up to a fixed maximum.
Ed Josephson, a supervising attorney with the civil reform unit at the Legal Aid Society, condemned the new work-requirement language.
“It’s the Giuliani ethos that you want to punish people for being poor and teach people a lesson about the value of hard work,” he told City Limits, referring to the former mayor who instituted a series of work requirements to the city’s welfare programs in the 1990s. “If they want people to work, get them out of shelter, get people stably housed, and it’s much easier for them to get a job.”
Meanwhile, a package of bills recently passed by the City Council would entirely remove employment as a prerequisite for accessing a voucher, in addition to raising the income threshold and helping people apply before entering shelter. In a Friday release, the Council said doing so would help people pursue work and housing at the same time.
Bronx Councilmember Pierina Sanchez is the primary sponsor of the bill that would eliminate work requirements. “It’s sort of a catch-22 at this time,” she told City Limits Saturday. “If you don’t have a job, which means that you are in a difficult financial position and end up in a shelter, then you can’t get out of a shelter without a job.”
“I continue to urge the mayor to sign our bills,” she added.
But Adams has been critical of the Council’s package, saying it will be too costly and that broadening eligibility will ramp up competition for existing voucher holders.
He would not say Friday if he plans to sign the bills, all of which passed with a veto-proof majority of 41-7. “The team is still deciding how we’re going to move forward with the entire package,” Adams told reporters.
Reached Saturday, the Adams administration emphasized its decision to reduce work requirements for families with children, and said standardizing across populations brings CityFHEPS more in line with state and federal voucher programs.*
“There has always been an employment requirement for CityFHEPS, and this nominal modification in work hours will help standardize eligibility criteria across populations so families with children do not have more stringent requirements than single adults, while further streamlining and expediting the processing of vouchers for shelter residents,” a Department of Social Services spokesperson said. “Importantly, we also look at work history and count recent employment towards requirements so clients are not penalized for recent job loss.”
While Friday’s order states that the new work requirement applies to “single adults,” the modification appears to also impact families without children. There were nearly 22,700 single adults in Department of Homeless Services shelters as of May 29, in addition to about 6,560 people in adult-only families. The system has nearly 25,000 adults with children, and nearly 26,950 kids.
Adams’ Friday emergency order also includes new language stating that, if a person receives a CityFHEPS voucher in shelter, they cannot use it for an apartment that they have lived in in the past year, except in extraordinary circumstances.
According to the administration, the rule is intended to prevent single adults from entering shelter in order to receive a voucher for an apartment they already live in, and will help the city prioritize people who don’t have homes.
“I can’t imagine it applying to anyone in real life,” Josephson of Legal Aid said. “No one goes into a shelter if they can possibly avoid it.”
The Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center said the new work language in Adams’ rule will be detrimental to people who lose their jobs, can’t find work, or are disabled but lack proof of federal benefits. Under the prior regime, less frequent gig work like DoorDash, cleaning, child care or work study has sufficed, they said.
Ethel Brown, a member of the Urban Justice Center’s Safety Net Activists, accused the mayor of a “bait and switch” in a statement late Friday. Her organization is a strong proponent of the City Council’s broader voucher reform package.
“He failed to mention that new requirements in his new rule today will also make it harder for many homeless New Yorkers to obtain CityFHEPS vouchers by adding more barriers and work requirements for single adults,” Brown said. “The mayor may think we’re stupid, but we’re not stupid. He needs to sign all four CityFHEPS bills into law now.”
*This story has been updated with comment from the Department of Social Services.