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Under legislation approved by the New York City Council on Thursday, the value of rental assistance vouchers provided to homeless New Yorkers will increase, a major step in moving people out of shelters into permanent housing. Sponsored by Council Member Stephen Levin, the bill raises the city’s rental subsidy, called CityFHEPS, from a maximum of $1,580/month to $2,217/month for a two-bedroom apartment for a family of three. Homeless advocates say this could help thousands more homeless families find permanent housing each year.
“This bill will be transformative for thousands of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness and will allow many families to finally find permanent, stable housing,” Levin said in a statement. “This is the result of years of hard work by advocates and impacted people who demanded a usable City FHEPs voucher.”
The legislation, approved via a veto-proof supermajority in the Council, increases the value of the voucher to better align with the federally-funded Section 8 housing voucher, a program that typically has long waitlists.
Currently, CityFHEPS vouchers are capped at $1,265/month for a single adult and $1,580/month for a family of three or four. To align with Section 8 vouchers and to tie it with market rent, the new legislation increases the cap to $1,945/month for one-bedrooms and $2,217/month for two-bedroom apartments for families of three.
Households with incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or roughly $32,500 for a single person and $55,000 for a family of three, are eligible for the housing vouchers. The vouchers are also available to New Yorkers who are not currently homeless, but face eviction. This number could increase if the eviction moratorium expires this year.
According to Win, the largest provider of shelter and supportive housing for homeless families in New York, the bill will allow 2,700 homeless families to move out of shelter and into permanent housing annually over the next five years.
The New York Times reported the cost of the new vouchers would be $900 million over five years, which translates to a six percent increase to the city’s $3 billion budget allocated for tackling homelessness.
“Previously, New York City’s voucher system was effectively useless – offering homeless families false hope, then failing to provide a pathway out of shelter for far too many of them,” Christine Quinn, president and CEO of Win, said in a statement on Thursday. “This legislation will change that, helping up to 2,700 families each year move out of shelter faster and take an essential step to break the cycle of homelessness.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio has not come out in support of the plan. During his weekly appearance on WNYC on Friday, the mayor said the bill is “directionally correct,” but that he wants companion legislation that would raise both the city and state vouchers simultaneously, avoiding City Hall taking the brunt of the costs of the higher value city voucher.
The mayor cannot veto the bill as it passed in the Council in a 46-2 vote.
Some housing advocates argue the bill does not go far enough. Joseph Loonam, the housing campaign coordinator for VOCAL-NY, said the final bill does not protect New Yorkers from losing their subsidy, even if they remain rent-burdened.
“This victory is a testament to the power of homeless New Yorkers who fought for this bill. CityFHEPS vouchers will finally align with Section 8 rates and pay enough to help people find dignified homes,” Loonam said in a statement.
“But unfortunately, we did not get all the reforms we needed. In the last days of negotiations with the Administration, the City Council negotiated away key provisions that protected people from losing their voucher — without any input from directly impacted New Yorkers.”
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