Drawn-out negotiations mulling over the state budget may have produced results that some lawmakers in Albany have wanted, like a $7 billion increase in child care subsidies that Gov. Kathy Hochul supported, or a $600 million cash infusion to help build a new football stadium in the governor’s hometown for the Buffalo Bills.
But what the budget didn’t include was funding that state lawmakers have long requested to create a program to provide subsidized housing for 40,000 to 50,000 homeless New Yorkers and those at risk of falling into homelessness. And supporters of the proposal said they felt that Hochul and her team rejected the plan because of their concerns over its long-term costs.
“The governor's people were just like, 'No, we're not interested in this program at any price and it's not on the table,'” said Senate Finance Chair Liz Krueger, a Democrat representing Manhattan.
Last week, as Hochul and state legislative leaders were in the final stages of budget negotiations, the governor’s representatives projected that the rental assistance program could cost $6 billion, according to Krueger and other lawmakers who were familiar with the private conversations. Supporters in the legislature, however, had only asked for $250 million.
Krueger and others said they’re not certain how the Hochul administration arrived at the $6 billion because no cost analysis was produced.
Joseph Loonam, a housing organizer with the advocacy group, VOCAL-NYC, which had backed the legislation, said he was disappointed by the governor’s decision not to fund it.
“They were just inflating those costs to be much, much higher than anything that we'd ever modeled out, and I think that was done in pretty bad faith,” Loonam said.
A spokesperson for Hochul did not respond to a request for comment. The offices of Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, both of whom had supported the legislation, also did not respond to requests for comment.
The proposal, known as the Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP), was modeled after the federal Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, and it enjoyed broad support from tenants and landlord groups, including the Community Housing Improvement Program, or CHIP, a group made up of about 4,000 owners of mostly rent-stabilized units, The Legal Aid Society, and Community Service Society of New York, an anti-poverty organization.
Under the plan, people who are eligible to receive vouchers would have spent no more than 30% of their income on housing. The state would have covered the remainder of the payments.
The proposal, which would have also been available to undocumented immigrants, called for half of the $250 million to go to homeless individuals and families, and the other half to help low-income renters facing imminent eviction.
As of January 2020, the state of New York had an estimated 91,300 people experiencing homelessness on any given day, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The legislation’s lead sponsor, Sen. Brian Kavanagh said the estimated $6 billion that Hochul and her team had projected was probably based on the presumption that the rental assistance program would expand to pay for everyone in the state who might be eligible for the subsidy.
“It's an odd way to think about a program like this, if you’re saying that there is so much need for permanent housing that we're going to do none,” said Kavanagh, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Lawmakers, however, did not ask for funding to cover every eligible person in the state. They asked for $250 million to create 20,000 vouchers, Kavanagh said.
Even if the program were to expand in later years, which its supporters said they had hoped to do, their analysis showed it would cost about $1 billion to pay for every homeless household across the state that needs a voucher.
“It has come to my attention that there is a narrative among skeptics of the program that HAVP’s cost would grow to $6 billion. There is no cause for this alarm,” Samuel Stein, a senior policy analyst at the anti-poverty group Community Service Society of New York, wrote in an April 1 memo sent to legislative leaders. “The program will not grow substantially on its own accord. Yes, the cost of rent could continue to increase over time, but not at a rate that would cause a $250 million commitment to balloon to anywhere near $6 billion within the next 100 years.”
Jay Martin, executive director of CHIP, a landlord group, said the estimated $6 billion price tag didn’t make sense because the governor and state lawmakers decide how many vouchers they want to create, and they could have put a cap on the amount of money they wanted to spend.
“The question isn't if there's a need. It's a question of is there a will to find the money to pay for it,” Martin said. “This is an old, old, old trick, not just from this governor but many governors, when they say I would love to do this, but I can't do it because your projections on the cost are way off.”