Governor Kathy Hochul signed a bill Friday to increase the state’s rental assistance voucher for families experiencing homelessness or on the brink of eviction, a move supported both by advocates for the homeless and the real estate industry which will allow homeless families substantially more access to the New York City housing market.
The bill, which passed the State Legislature in June, increases the amount of rent money that the Family Homelessness and Eviction Protection Supplement (FHEPS) voucher covers to 100 percent of fair market value as determined by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, up from the 85 percent covered previously. Fair market rent as determined by HUD is currently $2,026 for a two-bedroom apartment in the New York Metropolitan Area. 85 percent of that is $1,722.
That increase, advocates say, will unlock thousands of potential homes for families unable to afford them with existing cash supplements, leaving them stuck in the city’s shelter system.
“It’s simple: if we want to get people out of shelters, we have to give them enough money to afford the rent,” Hochul said at the bill’s signing on the Upper West Side. “You can’t just say go out on the streets, good luck. We understand that the rents are going up, inflation is going up. The money they thought they had is not going as far as it would have even a few months ago.”
The city’s most recent shelter census, conducted on Oct. 31, had nearly 46,000 people staying in a homeless shelter that night. That includes 8,591 families consisting of 14,887 children and 11,257 adults. The city’s shelter population has decreased over the course of the pandemic (possibly owing to the state and federal moratoriums on evictions and the relocation of many homeless people to hotels) from a high of about 60,000 in 2019, but that still leaves thousands of families forced to live in often-congregate shelters with little space to themselves.
The bill’s sponsor in the Assembly, Manhattan Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, said the new voucher increase will get more people out of shelters and into housing, and characterized it as an upfront investment to ultimately save money in the long run in addition to doing right by vulnerable families who couldn’t afford an apartment on the previous voucher level.
“Until now, the FHEPS voucher covered only up to about 85 percent of fair market rent,” Rosenthal said. “There is not a single neighborhood in New York City where the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is affordable to a family with an existing voucher.”
The FHEPS increase comes just months after the city dramatically increased its own version of the voucher, CityFHEPS, from $1,265 to $1,900 for an individual and from $1,580 to $2,217 for a family of four; the new voucher amounts bring the program in line with disbursals provided by the federal Section 8 voucher. CityFHEPS is available for families in similar circumstances as those who qualify for state FHEPS, but whose income precludes their qualification for the state version.
The subsidy increase was supported not only by advocates for the homeless, but also by the real estate industry, including the powerful landlord trade group the Real Estate Board of New York, as increasing the subsidy to 100 percent meant landlords can rest more assured that they will get paid on time and in full. Discrimination by landlords against prospective tenants who intend to pay rent with voucher funds, also known as source-of-income discrimination, is illegal but widespread in the city’s housing market.
“Increasing the value of State FHEPS housing vouchers to align with Section 8 and newly increased CityFHEPs vouchers will help advance our shared goal of increasing access to housing for vulnerable New Yorkers,” said REBNY’s senior vice president of planning Basha Gerhards in a statement. “We applaud Gov. Hochul for signing this important legislation into law, we once again applaud Senator Kavanagh and Assemblymember Rosenthal for sponsoring it, and we look forward to continued partnership with a broad array of stakeholders as we work together to expand housing opportunities at this critical time.”
Hochul said that she will soon be sitting down with Mayor-elect Eric Adams to come up with a “cohesive strategy” on combatting homelessness as a state and city, and made a not-so-subtle dig at her disgraced predecessor Andrew Cuomo, whose governing style often found him taking combative stances against Mayor Bill de Blasio and refusing to cooperate with Hizzoner.
“This is a radical concept, my friends, radical idea here,” Hochul said. “But the State of New York, hold on to your seats, and the City of New York will work together.”
Other speakers at the bill also noted that Hochul, who on Thursday cleared her path to reelection of arguably her strongest opponent, Attorney General Letitia James, is seeking a more cooperative approach to governing than had been seen in the state under her predecessor’s decade-long reign.
“This is how government should work,” said the city’s Homeless Services Commissioner Steven Banks. “The legislature looks for a solution, the governor considers it, the governor acts, the City of New York works together with the governor. It’s like right out of fairy tales, almost. Except it’s real, and it’s gonna be real for people in this state and this city that need this help.”