Joined by Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala at today’s New York City Council Stated Meeting, Council Member Tiffany Cabán introduced a bill designed to remove bureaucratic impediments to homeless New Yorkers finding housing, and save the city money in the process.

At issue is the “shopping letter” that New Yorkers receive once the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) deems them eligible for a housing voucher to rent an apartment or single-room occupancy (SRO). Based on household size and income level, this letter identifies the “maximum rent” a recipient can rent an apartment with the voucher.

Unfortunately, this maximum rent often includes utility fees over and above the rent, meaning that, for many housing voucher holders, adequate housing remains out of reach, leaving them to return to a DHS shelter after making the long effort to find an apartment. This bill would eliminate the utility allowance from the equation, so that the maximum rent is just that: the rent of the apartment or SRO.

“There are more vacant units in New York City than there are homeless New Yorkers,” said Council Member Tiffany Cabán. “We absolutely have all the real resources necessary to ensure that every last one of our neighbors is housed in comfortable, dignified living conditions. We should be guaranteeing housing as a basic human right, not establishing rules that put up barriers between our neighbors and the housing they need and deserve. I’m proud to introduce this bill and strongly urge my colleagues to support it, so we can change this rule, house our neighbors, and make our city safer and healthier for all.”

“CityFheps was created with the goal of finding permanent housing for homeless individuals,” said Council Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala. “The technicality of reducing utility cost from monthly rent only creates a roadblock to attaining permanent housing, making this a more burdensome process and forces longer stays at homeless shelters. This is common sense legislation that will reduce the obstacles for homeless families trying to attain permanent housing.”

“HRA’s utility allowance rule unnecessarily limits shelter residents’ choice of apartments, prolonging their shelter stays at great cost to the City,” said Ed Josephson, Supervising Attorney, Legal Aid Society Law Reform Unit. “The proposed legislation will make clear that CityFHEPS can be used to rent apartments up to the full Section 8 payment standard, as originally envisioned by the Council.”

“CityFHEPS vouchers are a life-changing tool that help homeless families find permanent housing and exit shelter, but we have to make sure they work. The historic increase in voucher amounts that we secured last year was a major win for homeless families — but DHS’ decision to add in a backwards ‘utility allowance’ threatens to undermine their effectiveness,” said Christine C. Quinn, President & CEO of Win, the city’s largest provider of shelter and support services for homeless families. “There’s no need to make vouchers more complicated, and Win is grateful to Councilwoman Tiffany Cabán for stepping up to find fixes to this self-inflicted problem. Especially as we see eviction cases increase, we must get bureaucracy out of the way and let proven tools like CityFHEPS vouchers work as intended. Homeless families deserve nothing less.” 

“Homeless Services United supports the removal of utility deductions from rental assistance vouchers like CityFHEPS and State FHEPS,” said Eric Lee, Director of Policy and Planning, Homeless Services United. “This unnecessary deduction limits voucher holders’ ability to secure Fair Market Rent housing, as it nickels and dimes landlords whenever the cost of utilities are not covered by the rent. Through passage of this legislation, the Council can protect higher CityFHEPS rent levels created by the historic passage of Int. 146, ensuring voucher holders have more purchasing power to attain permanent housing.”

“The City must ensure that CityFHEPS rental assistance vouchers are as effective as possible,” said Nicole McVinua, Director of Policy, Urban Pathways. “Even following the historic increase to CityFHEPS to match Fair Market Rents implemented last year, limiting factors have continued to prevent this program from maximizing access to permanent housing. This is why we applaud Council Member Cabán for introducing this piece of legislation to eliminate the utility allowance from city vouchers. This would expand the number of apartments on the rental market available to households using rental assistance to exit or prevent their homelessness and prevent unnecessary confusion for landlords accepting these vouchers. We look forward to working with the Council to ensure vouchers work to lift many more New Yorkers out of homelessness!”