New York wants to resettle low-income residents outside the city and will even pay for their housing there
New York’s social services agency will soon allow low-income city residents with housing vouchers to rent apartments in Buffalo, Binghamton or anywhere else in the state under new rules aimed at curbing record-high homelessness rates, Gothamist reports.
The plan will be the first time the city will pay rent for families and individuals receiving CityFHEPS housing subsidies outside the five boroughs, where prices are lower, according to Department of Social Services (DSS) Commissioner Molly Park. and there is potentially more affordable housing.
The decision comes as homelessness in New York is rising, driven largely by incoming migrants, and as average rents in the city hit new highs while the supply of affordable apartments shrinks. Additionally, the Adams administration is trying to repeal New York’s unique “right to shelter” rules, which guarantee a shelter bed to anyone in need.
“These reforms will give long-time New Yorkers living in shelters the opportunity to move out of the city system and into other areas of the state with more affordable housing options,” said Mayor Eric Adams. “We look forward to our partners across the state welcoming New Yorkers with open arms and great job opportunities.”
Opportunity to start from scratch
The CityFHEPS program covers the bulk of rent for New Yorkers moving from shelters into permanent housing and, in some cases, for low-income tenants facing eviction. Program participants pay 30% of their income for rent, with the city covering the rest.
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However, current rules limit housing searches for voucher holders to five boroughs. That’s a major disadvantage compared to other subsidies, such as the federal Section 8 program, which allows people to move anywhere in the U.S. where they can find housing, Park said.
“Housing mobility is a fundamental right that most of us take for granted,” Park said. “The more housing options we can provide for people, the more likely we are to help households escape shelter.”
The ability to move out of town with the CityFHEPS voucher will help a variety of New Yorkers, including families in shelters escaping domestic violence and people looking for work in other parts of the state, Park said. The city will adjust its maximum payment standards based on local fair market rates set by the federal government, she said. The city plans to issue the emergency rule by early next week, which will take effect immediately upon adoption.
Obstacles to the program
Since the current CityFHEPS program launched in 2019, DSS has issued more than 30,000 housing vouchers, Adams said. But most voucher recipients struggle to quickly find available apartments or willing landlords, and many face administrative hurdles that slow their move. About 6,300 families used apartment vouchers last year, a record high, according to DSS.
With more than 100,000 people currently living in the city’s homeless shelters, the program is causing significant disagreement between Adams and the City Council, which has passed a package of bills to expand access to vouchers and repeal a rule requiring people to stay in shelters for at least 90 days. before they can receive the voucher.
Adams repealed the 90-day requirement for shelters and then vetoed the remaining bills, saying it would cost too much and create more competition for scarce housing. The council voted to override the veto, but Adams said his administration could sue to block the reforms.
The opportunities are there, you just need to know how to manage them
Park said it’s unclear how many people who received CityFHEPS vouchers will decide to leave the city. For years, the vast majority of shelter residents became homeless, usually because they couldn’t afford rent increases, according to City Limits.
Changing the voucher program “creates an opportunity, and if that opportunity works for some, that’s great,” Park said.
Gov. Kathy Hochul welcomed the changes, saying she and the mayor’s office are in contact about expanding the voucher program. “This doesn’t mean people are being bused around the state against their will,” Hochul said. “This is just another opportunity to try to open the back door to get more people out of shelters and into apartments.”
The expansion of the CityFHEPS program is also reminiscent of another city subsidy that allows homeless New Yorkers on a fixed income to move outside the five boroughs while the city pays their rent for a year.
Strict checks on landlords
However, landlords outside New York City used a special lump sum assistance program, collecting a year’s rent in advance and then allowing conditions to deteriorate before evicting tenants, many of whom returned to the city’s homeless shelters. Newark, New Jersey, filed a lawsuit to stop New York City from paying rent for SOTA recipients in Newark, but earlier this year reversed its order and reached a settlement with the Adams administration.
DSS changed the rules of the program, requiring them to conduct stricter inspections and pay rent monthly rather than in a lump sum. However, some SOTA tenants are still losing their apartments after landlords raise rents or refuse to renew contracts.
Park said the agency has learned from SOTA’s failures and will require strict inspections, either in person or via live video walk-throughs, before approving apartments. She also noted that the CityFHEPS program is designed for five years, with the possibility of renewal if the family meets income requirements. “This is something that customers have been asking us for a long time,” Park said.
She said city officials have the governor’s support and will defend the new rule in the face of possible opposition from communities outside the five boroughs. Many communities are already hesitant to encourage housing development or welcome migrants moving from New York.
“But I choose to believe in the best that my fellow New Yorkers have and that we will not face significant opposition,” Park said. “We help households achieve the stability they want and deserve, and we do it in a way that respects the rights that so many of us have.”
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