Queens Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, who represents Forest Hills, Rego Park and Middle Village, has been pushing the Home Stability Support (HSS) program, a new statewide rental subsidy that would help keep vulnerable families in their homes.
Last Tuesday on the steps of City Hall, city elected officials endorsed the plan, calling it a possible answer to a troubling issue.
“We’re in a crisis, and we need forward-thinking solutions,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “It’s a financially and socially responsible proposal that will reduce our dependence on shelters and hotels, prevent evictions, and cut down the significant cost of homelessness.”
Hevesi described the program as a rental supplement. It specifically targets 80,000 households that they believe are on the brink of homelessness, including those who are already sleeping in shelters or on the street, people living “doubled up,” people fleeing domestic violence or other hazardous conditions, and households that are currently on public assistance and facing eviction.
Although the city already has a rental assistance program, Hevesi said that only targets about 10,000 to 12,000 households. HHS would broaden the scope to help those in need throughout the state.
“We can’t keep building shelters to shelter our way out of this,” said Hevesi, who chairs the Assembly’s Social Services Committee. “The only way to do it is to keep people in their homes. This is the only viable solution.”
For the chronically homeless and people suffering from mental illness, Hevesi said supportive housing is the long-term solution. Last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to build 150,000 units of supportive housing over the next 15 years.
According to a website advocating for Home Stability Support, 54,000 households in New York City are struggling to make ends meet. Another 41,000 are on the brink of homelessness, and more than 9,000 families are expected to become homeless without any intervention.
That’s largely due to the shelter allowance not keeping up with the rising cost of housing.
Advocates of the bill also argued that the statewide rental assistance program would be cheaper and more cost-effective than opening more shelters. According to the website, HSS would cost $11,224 per year for a household of three and $9,965 for an individual in New York City.
Under the current shelter system, the city is spending $38,460 for a family with children and nearly $26,000 for an individual living in temporary housing.
“We are pouring money into a shelter system, but the results aren’t what we want and we’re paying three times as much,” Hevesi said. “It doesn't make sense. We have a common sense, viable solution here.”
HSS would be funded by state and federal funds, and would cost about $450 million in total.
Thirty members of the City Council have signed a letter urging Governor Andrew Cuomo to take executive action to replace the “current failing patchwork of local programs throughout the state that reach only a small fraction of those in need.”
Councilman Barry Grodenchik said it is important to take action because the executive budget is being drafted in Albany right now.
“In one of the wealthiest cities in the world, it is absolutely inexcusable that there are so many children and families and individuals that are struggling to find basic shelter,” Grodenchik said. “I believe this would be a very effective solution that would go a long way to curbing the homelessness we’re now facing.”
Councilman Stephen Levin of Brooklyn, who chairs the council’s Committee on Social Services, gave credit to the de Blasio administration and Commissioner Steven Banks for their efforts to address the issue in the city. He said without their actions, the city would’ve been in a much worse position.
Levin called on the state to provide more support and resources as well.
“The trauma that children and families face living in the shelter system for extended periods of time is really hard for those of us that go to sleep in a warm bed every night to fathom,” he said. “This is really about future generations. We need to make sure we break the cycle now.”
Councilman Donovan Richards, who recently visited a shelter in his district with 700 children, called HHS “a viable solution” to reduce homelessness. He called out the shelter protesters who demonstrated nightly against the city’s plan to convert a Holiday Inn Express into a shelter in Maspeth.
“We’ve heard a lot of rhetoric over the last few months on homelessness, people marching against homelessness, people marching against the commissioner,” Richards said. “For anybody who is marching against these children who need a place to live, I just tell them to visit.
“We need those people and communities to be a part of this plan,” he added. “We need to you to march to the state and help Assembly member Hevesi get this off the ground.”
Hevesi said he has “overwhelming support” from his colleagues in the Assembly. He said Cuomo needs to put the HSS program in the executive budget by January, when he makes his annual State of the State address.
“If he puts it in, great, but if not, I’m confident we’ll be able through the Legislature to insert this program into the budget discussions and make it part of the process,” Hevesi said.