Mayor Adams Fixes New York City’s Rent Assistance Program

Mayor Adams announced a raft of reforms to the city’s routine-shattered rental assistance program on Monday — but stopped short of repealing a decades-old rule that housing advocates say restricts access to the program.

At a news conference at City Hall, Adams and his top residential advisers said the repairs would make it easier to take advantage of the so-called CityFHEPS voucher program, which significantly subsidizes monthly rental costs for some low-income New Yorkers.

New York City Mayor Adams announced steps to help New Yorkers access housing more quickly through reforms to the CityFHEPS housing voucher program at City Hall in Lower Manhattan, New York Monday, November 14, 2022.

For starters, the administration is expanding eligibility by making CityFHEPS vouchers available to any adult working in a full-time minimum wage job, regardless of whether their income is just above 200% of the federal poverty level, Adams said. Currently, only those with income below 200% are eligible.

Adams said the city is also reducing the amount of money eligible CityFHEPS New Yorkers must contribute to their rents for one-room occupancy units, capping it at $50 per month. Currently, CityFHEPS beneficiaries in this category must make 30% of their income.

Among other reforms Adams introduced was a provision that would cut the number of hours families must work per week to be eligible for CityFHEPS from 30 to 14 hours, as well as a new subsidy that covers the cost of apartment application fees for homeless shelter residents.

“It’s clear that the housing crisis is that big knot that is at the heart of many of the problems the city is facing,” Adams told reporters. “We must undo that knot that prevents people from accessing housing.”

New York Daily News front page on April 6, 2022: 200,000 face bootlegging after COVID amid acute shortage of lawyers for tenants in need.  Advocates fear that there are too few public defenders to protect the large numbers of rent-defining tenants facing eviction.

However, one knot in the CityFHEPS bureaucracy that was not addressed in Monday’s announcement is the so-called 90-day rule.

The rule, first implemented by Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration, requires people to stay at least 90 days in a city-operated shelter before they are eligible to apply for CityFHEPS.

Housing advocates have long decried this rule as arbitrary, while arguing that lifting it would speed up the process of removing New Yorkers from the shelter system, which its residents saw Reaching an all-time high Last month.

When asked why the 90-day rule was not repealed, Adams acknowledged that housing activists had urged him to do so, but said his administration was still studying the potential budgetary impact of such a policy shift. However, he did not rule out the abolition of this requirement in the future.

“We’ll look into that too,” he said, “so it’s all on the table.”

City Council President Adrian Adams and Bronx Councilwoman Diana Ayala, who chairs the council’s public welfare committee, called the mayor’s announcement Monday “important” — but highlighted the lack of action on the 90-day rule.

“There is still a need to remove the 90-day shelter requirement for CityFHEPS rental vouchers and it must be addressed,” the two Democratic council members said in a statement. “As a city, we must focus on all necessary measures to help people secure the safe and stable housing they need.”

Demonstrators seeking financial relief march through the lanes of the Brooklyn Bridge bound for Manhattan on Friday, March 5, 2021.

Also in the reform package Adams unveiled is a pilot program that would connect 80 New Yorkers who live on the streets with placement in supportive housing units. According to Social Services Commissioner Gary Jenkins, the “Street to Housing” pilot will be on a first-come-first-served basis.

Adams said the city could expand the pilot beyond the first 80 people. But he said his administration first needs to do more research on the so-called “housing first” concept, which has been embraced by some other US cities, including Houston.

Kathleen Cash, a homeless advocate with the Safety Net Project, said the pilot was a “positive step,” but she questioned the mayor’s argument for further research.

“No one needs more research or ‘pilot projects’ to show that ‘housing first’ works – the research available is comprehensive and readily available,” she said.

Cash also pointed out that the city Hundreds of support housing units Sitting empty.

There are serious actions the city can take, and has authority over, to fill those units. They simply refused,” she said before she shot the controversial Adams The suppression of the homeless camps in the streets: “Instead, the city’s main strategy for intervening with street homelessness has been the 1,500+ sweeps that move the most vulnerable out of sight and make it harder for them to actually get out of homelessness.”

with Michael Gartland

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