With homelessness at a record high, New York City is piloting an initiative to cover twelve months of rent for homeless families seeking housing outside the five boroughs, as first reported by WNYC.
The Human Resources Administration sent a letter to NYC shelter providers this week announcing seventeen apartments available in Newark, New Jersey, the outlet found.
The new initiative is an extension of the Bloomberg-era Project Reconnect, according to HRA. That program has funded one-way travel out of NYC for 6,400 homeless individuals over the past five years.
"For decades, the City has helped our homeless neighbors seek housing where they can best get back on their feet—sometimes that includes outside the five boroughs," said HRA spokesman Isaac McGinn.
However, this is the first time HRA has set up a program guaranteeing twelve months of rent for eligible participants to live within or outside of the five boroughs, according to Josh Goldfein, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society's Homeless Rights Project, who was briefed on the plan this month.
In the past, Goldfein said, HRA "could add money for rent if that was what it took" to relocate a family outside NYC.
The new program is only open to homeless individuals who have been in the system for at least three months and are employed or receive another subsidy, such as disability, which would help them cover rent after the first year, according to the city.
HRA could not provide a price tag on the new program, saying only that there is no specific set-aside.
Goldfein said Friday that the twelve month rental assistance commitment in this new program is notable. While NYC has laws protecting homeless New Yorkers against voucher discrimination, landlords have been found to disregard them with impunity.
"They are making a commitment that they will pay the money for a year, in the hope that that will reassure hesitant landlords," Goldfein told Gothamist, adding, "I think what's going on is they are getting pressed harder and harder and they are trying to see what will make a difference."
There is no mention of the subsidy in Mayor de Blasio's March homelessness plan, which calls for opening 90 new shelters in order to phase out expensive and unpopular hotel and cluster site shelters and reduce the shelter population by four percent by 2022: from an estimated record high of 60,000 today to 57,500.
Giselle Routhier is policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless. She said Friday that since the initiative is a new one, "we don't have much on-the-ground feedback yet."
She did raise a few initial concerns.
"The plan to send some families outside of New York City only speaks to the devastating lack of affordable housing here for low-income families," Routhier said. "While it may be beneficial to a small subset of families, we would also be concerned about the short-term nature of the assistance and the stability of families at the end of the year."