Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York state lawmakers are expected to decide by midnight whether to create a $250 million rental assistance program that advocates said would provide long-term housing for 40,000 to 50,000 homeless individuals and families and those most at risk of losing their homes.
The rent subsidy plan is backed by landlord interest groups, the real estate lobby and tenant organizations – a rare show of unity. It also has the support of the legislature, which set aside the funding in their multi-billion-dollar spending plans.
“The people who don't like it are the fiscal conservatives,” said Judith Goldiner, who heads the civil law reform unit at The Legal Aid Society, which has been lobbying for the program. “But from a policy perspective, I don't think anyone has concerns about it.”
Hochul, however, did not include the $250 million proposal in her budget plan unveiled in January and she has not publicly weighed in on whether she will support it. The governor and legislative leaders are in the final hours of budget negotiations, and lawmakers are expected to vote on the state’s spending plan by midnight.
In New York state, more than 90,000 people have no place to call home, according to Sen. Brian Kavanagh, a sponsor of the rental assistance initiative, known as the Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP). The Coalition for the Homeless said the number of individuals and families in New York City without permanent homes has reached the “highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s.”
The proposed voucher program, modeled after the federal Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, would help individuals and families who can’t afford to pay their rent. Under the plan, people who are eligible to receive vouchers would spend no more than 30% of their income on housing. The state would cover the remainder of the payments.
In a major expansion beyond voucher programs in place elsewhere – including New York City – the program would also be available to undocumented New Yorkers, who are often shut out of government assistance programs.
If enacted, half of the $250 million would be reserved for homeless New Yorkers and the other half would go to help those facing imminent eviction.
The purpose of the program is to create a long-term permanent housing subsidy to keep those who can’t afford their rent housed, Kavanagh said. The state previously had programs to help rent-strapped New Yorkers, but they ended when funding dried up.
“It's always better to get somebody from homelessness into permanent housing, but we don't want that to be a short-term solution,” said Kavanagh, who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. “We don't want people to go into housing and then two years later be experiencing homelessness.”
In the long run, Kavanagh and Goldiner said the rent subsidy program would reduce the amount of taxpayers’ money the state and New York City spend on the shelter system to house homeless families and individuals.
Every year, Kavanagh said the state reimburses New York City $2 billion in shelter costs.
“So, permanent housing will be cheaper. It'll be healthier and more stable,” he said.
Landlord groups are in favor of the program because they can count on a steady stream of income.
Valentina Gojcaj, who manages more than 200 apartments for small property owners in New York City, said one of the program’s attractive features is its portability, allowing tenants to choose where they want to live and when circumstances in their lives change.
“If a tenant who resides in the five boroughs would like to move into Westchester County, or they want to go into Dutchess, or follow another job opportunity, or if it’s an older person who wants to follow family, they can do that,” said Gojcaj.
Recipients of New York City’s housing voucher program, known as CityFHEPS, cannot use the vouchers to rent an apartment or house outside the city.
The measure was first introduced by Kavanagh in 2020 and again in 2021 under Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Kavanagh said having new leadership in Albany may mean this will be the year it becomes law.
“I think that's doable,” Kavanagh said. “And so, I think, and hope, that we're going to do it this week.”