NYC Council passes legislation expanding rental assistance

May 26, 2023

Image courtesy of Filip Mishevski on Flickr

The New York City Council on Thursday passed a set of bills that will help house more New Yorkers and free up shelter space for asylum seekers. The legislation ends a rule requiring unhoused people spend at least 90 days in shelter before qualifying for a rental assistance voucher, known as CityFHEPS, and expands the number of people eligible for the vouchers. Mayor Eric Adams, who may attempt to veto the bill, said the legislation will cost the city billions over the next five years.

A bill introduced by Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala removes the mandatory 90-day shelter stay for homeless New Yorkers as a qualification to receive housing vouchers, expanding eligibility for the rental assistance program, shortening the length of stays in the shelter system, and giving those in need of shelter quicker access to permanent housing.

Two bills sponsored by Council Member Pierina Sanchez loosen the Department of Social Security’s requirements for New Yorkers to be eligible for housing vouchers by allowing them to prove a risk of eviction by showing a rent demand letter and would change the eligibility of a housing voucher from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 50 percent of the area median income.

Another bill introduced by Council Member Tiffany Cabán lowers the amount voucher holders pay for utilities. The bill would prevent the city’s Department of Social Services from deducting utility costs from the maximum allowance of a housing voucher, except in certain circumstances.

Win, the largest provider of shelter and supportive services for homeless families in NYC and the country, praised the council’s approval of the legislation.

“The 90-Day Rule is arbitrary, cruel, and incredibly expensive — and now, thanks to the City Council, it is relegated to the history books. This rule was a relic of an era when government wanted to punish New Yorkers for being homeless, and it has no place in 2023,” Christine C. Quinn, president of Win, said.

“Forcing families to stay in shelter longer than they have to while wasting tens of millions of dollars is bad policy, bad politics, and bad budgeting. I want to thank the City Council — especially Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala — for repealing the 90-Day Rule and improving CityFHEPS vouchers for all of our homeless neighbors. This package of legislation is a win for New Yorkers and an important step in our efforts to end the crisis of homelessness.”

By eliminating the 90-day shelter rule, the city could save as much as $27,990 per homeless family, according to an analysis released by Win last week. The report found housing a family in a homeless shelter for a single year costs the city more than housing a family in a two-bedroom apartment with a CityFHEPS voucher for five years.

The legislative package comes as the city’s shelter vacancy rate for families with children is less than one percent and the city’s migrant crisis continues to worsen as southern states send asylum seekers up to New York. At this point, the city has cared for upwards of 73,000 asylum seekers and is actively caring for more than 44,000, straining the shelter system, according to the city.

Adams said the legislation would cost the city $17 billion over five years. But with each bill receiving at least 30 co-sponsors, the legislation passed with a veto-proof majority, according to Gothamist.

In a statement, Adams’ press secretary Fabian Levy said the council rejected a proposal from the administration earlier this year that would eliminate the 90-day rule for families.

“They rejected that proposal, and today passed a package of bills that will make it harder for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness to exit shelter to permanent housing,” Levy said. “Nearly 20,000 existing voucher holders who cannot currently find housing because of the extremely low vacancy rate in our city would be lumped in with thousands more, including anyone who stops paying rent, for any reason, if they are below 50 percent of area median income.”

On Thursday, Adams filed an application with a judge asking for them to alter the city’s right-to-shelter rule. The decades-old policy guarantees any homeless person looking for shelter access to temporary housing. The mayor is requesting that the policy be rewritten to allow the city to suspend the right for homeless adults when it “lacks the resources and capacity to establish and maintain sufficient shelter sites.”

Once they become law, the bills take 180 days to take effect.


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