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On July 6th, Mayor Adams wrote an opinion piece for the New York Daily News titled “Why I had to veto the Council’s 4 housing bills: Mayor Eric Adams says there are better ways to help homeless New Yorkers get places to live”

The article makes a number of claims about the Administration’s response to addressing homelessness, but how do they measure up to reality? Let’s take a look.

“This administration is taking action across the board to address housing, both by building more of it and by providing services to keep New Yorkers in their homes and move people out of shelter into affordable housing — all while contending with the added pressure of the ongoing asylum seeker crisis.”

The understaffing and lack of budget support for housing agencies by Mayor Adams’ administration has slowed the city’s ability to advance housing development. The mayor has failed to fix the understaffing of his agencies, which OMB’s interference in hiring has contributed to perpetuating and has slowed processing of housing assistance and production of already approved housing projects. Despite pledging to commit $4 billion in capital funding per year for housing production and preservation, he failed to fulfill that promise in his first year. Fiscal Year 2024 is the first year that the City has allocated the targeted amount that advocates and the Council have demanded. If he’s fully committed to exercising all his own authority towards increasing the housing supply, rather than simply blaming the State for not taking the action the City needs, this annual level of capital funding should be sustained for every year of his capital plan. It currently is not.

“We’ve increased subsidized placements from shelter by 20% year-over-year.”

In 2022, the number of homeless households receiving City rent vouchers to transition into permanent housing reached its lowest level in five years. The number of homeless single adults placed into supportive housing was the second-lowest level since 2004 (with only the previous year being marginally worse). And the number of affordable housing units and homeless set-aside units financed hit its lowest level since 2014.

“We’ve launched a housing first model to connect unhoused New Yorkers to housing.”

The administration launched a “housing first” pilot that was unnecessarily small in scope for 80 units, when thousands of supportive housing units are vacant. Its pilot disregarded the years of evidence of the model’s positive results in addressing homelessness, used by other cities and funded by the federal government. “A large-scale Housing First program has proven effective in Houston, where 25,000 unhoused people have moved from the streets into apartments. Adams previously said he was skeptical the model could work in New York City, where it was pioneered but rarely applied.”  

Housing First is the basis for supportive housing that the administration has refused to invest budget funds to ensure existing commitments for units are fulfilled – it has disregarded the Council and supportive housing experts’ calls to add resources for thousands of units the City committed to through its 15/15 and JISH supportive housing programs to be viable.

“We have added millions of dollars to prevent landlords from discriminating against voucher holders, and increased funding for eviction prevention as well.”

Funding for the source-of-income discrimination unit was included in last and this year’s adopted budgets after the Council advocated for investments through its Preliminary Budget Response (FYs 2023 and 2024) in response to it being left out of Mayor Adams’ initial budget proposals.

The Administration has taken no proactive action to address the growing number of eviction cases since the state’s moratorium ended in January 2022, despite requests for it to more strongly advocate that the court system allow tenants to have legal representation. Landlords filed more than 178,000 eviction notices in the city over the past 18 months. The mayor’s initial FY24 budget proposals did not include additional funds for the City’s right-to-counsel program, but the final adopted budget included increased funds because of the advocacy of the Council, organizations and New Yorkers. At the same time, recent reports indicated that the City’s Department of Social Services rejected two-thirds of the more than 50,000 applications for emergency payments to cover rent arrears in the first nine months of 2022, a rejection rate that is approximately double of what it was five years ago.

“Last month, our administration made it easier for homeless New Yorkers to move into permanent housing by eliminating the 90-day length-of-stay requirement, a longstanding rule that delayed access to city funded housing vouchers.”

Mayor Adams could have eliminated the 90-day rule on his own and claimed to support doing so when releasing his housing plan in June 2022. Yet, 11 months passed without any action, and he only acted after the Council passed its bills that eliminated the 90-day rule and other barriers to CityFHEPS vouchers. His executive action undermined the change by also adding counterproductive work requirements that the Council bills would eliminate.

“It is projected that providing CityFHEPS vouchers to everyone who would be eligible under the Council’s bills would cost $17 billion over the next five years, and the savings from reduced shelter costs would be less than $300 million.”

The Administration has provided no explanation of its $17 billion five-year estimate. The Council’s lower fiscal impact statement provided an explanation, including that it underestimated savings. Recent estimates by Community Service Society (CSS) and Win project that the Council’s bills would save the City significant money.

  • WIN’s analysis, released in July, takes the most comprehensive view of the costs of homelessness, and thus the savings of keeping individuals and families housed instead of experiencing homelessness and entering the shelter system. By taking into consideration the annual money spent in medical care, juvenile detention, education, foster care and shelter costs alongside the same number of households as CSS’s preceding report, WIN finds the City could achieve annual savings of $730 million given the estimated costs of the current system and potential reform of CityFHEPS. 
  • CSSNY’s report, released on June 20, uses the number of households with incomes below 50 percent of the Area Median Income that are severely rent-burdened as its basis and found that the net additional increase in cost for using CityFHEPS as an eviction-prevention tool is $3 billion cumulatively over five years, or approximately $600 million per year. Their net projection includes the cost of using city vouchers to keep people housed in their homes while solely accounting for shelter and rehousing costs under the system as it exists today.  

“Even if we offer only as many vouchers as the appropriations in our coming budget will allow, the bills would force families in the shelter system who are currently eligible for CityFHEPS vouchers to compete for vouchers with families who are still housed, but behind on the rent.”

A voucher used to help a family avoid eviction and remain housed does not create competition with a family in the shelter system seeking housing with a voucher. In fact, the mayor’s desired approach that New Yorkers be required to enter the shelter system post-eviction to be eligible for a housing voucher will create competition by increasing the population of those seeking housing in the open market with a voucher. The use of a voucher to prevent eviction also costs the City significantly less than a voucher used by a household in shelter.

“Only 10% of families entering shelter do so because of a formal eviction. The vast majority of those in Housing Court never enter shelter — they find housing in other ways. Moreover, nearly 20,000 families who already have vouchers have been unable to find housing.”

Families go to great lengths to avoid entering shelter, including doubling up with friends or family. Yet, there are significantly detrimental effects of living in crowded housing on children that are well documented, with studies showing that children score lower on reading tests, complete less schooling than their peers, and experience worse behavior and physical health outcomes. This issue is widespread, as 1 in 10 NYC public school children have experienced living in temporary housing at some point in the past school year. 

Even if a family wants to enter shelter, the percentage of homeless families applying for shelter who were found eligible has remained low. Fewer than 31% of families with children were found eligible in the first half of 2023, and the percentage of adult families without children found eligible is currently at an all-time low of 14.9 percent.

Despite all of this, the Mayor still portrays the low number of direct shelter entries from housing court as some kind of victory, consistent with an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to homelessness.

“Instead of tackling decades of exclusionary zoning policies that have prevented our city from building an adequate housing supply, this plan would fail to reduce the number of people entering shelter, impede the city’s ability to target limited resources for those most in need, even giving some New Yorkers access to a housing voucher just because they received a rent demand letter from their landlord after being just a few weeks late on their payment.”

This is conflating issues. Speaker Adams has been clear about the need to establish Fair Housing targets to build adequate housing in every neighborhood and has taken action by introducing separate legislation. Zoning policies must be addressed through zoning, which the Administration and Council are discussing as part of citywide zoning text amendments.

It is possible to tackle two problems at once. The Council can help more effectively transition shelter residents to permanent housing and stabilize households by keeping them housed, while at the same time pursuing zoning reforms. Building housing through zoning reform will take years, but families are in crisis now. Helping people stay housed preserves currently existing affordable housing. If those families are evicted, the rents on those units can be raised for a new tenant. Preserving housing security and existing low rents are vital.

“We always look to work collaboratively with the Council, and months ago our administration offered to partner with Council members and work to advance this policy goal in a responsible way, but they rejected that offer and chose to move ahead on their own.”

This is patently false. The Council sought to work with the Administration for many months in good faith, and they inexplicably failed to meaningfully negotiate or constructively engage on the bills that eventually passed. 

Negotiating does not mean that the Council will just do what the Administration wants. The counterproposals that the Administration offered were inadequate, and when given the opportunity to offer more reasonable proposals, they refused. 

  • The proposal they offered was to end the 90-day rule only for families with children. It also limited eligibility for eviction prevention to families with a child under 5, combined with several other conditions that severely limited its reach. They also wanted to study the use of vouchers to determine their effectiveness, which appeared to be a delay tactic.  The Council found these proposals to be woefully inadequate, and there was no credible rationale for wasting government resources and valuable time to study a tool that has existed and demonstrated effective in helping New Yorkers, while homelessness and evictions increase at the expense of families and the City.  

“The package of bills they passed could cost billions and would not only make it harder for those actually experiencing homelessness to find a permanent home, but also clearly exceeds the Council’s legal authority.”

This argument has been belated, first appearing upon the mayor’s veto but absent from the Administration’s argument when the bills passed. The Council has previously legislated several times on the CityFHEPS voucher program. 

    • Recognizing that the program is an invaluable tool to curb homelessness and that the amounts of the CityFHEPS rental assistance voucher were woefully inadequate, the Council passed Local Law 71 of 2021, which raised the value of the vouchers to the same rate as levels equal to those established by Section 8. 

    • In 2021, the Council also passed Local Law 157 of 2021 and Local Law 170 of 2021, allowing time in foster care or runaway and homeless youth services to count toward the 90-day shelter residency requirement for eligibility. 

    • In 2023, the Council passed Local Law 64 of 2023, requiring rental assistance payments to be available via an electronic funds transfer. 

These bills have been enacted as law and implemented, including by this Administration.