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New Legislation to Increase Rental Vouchers Gives Hope to Homeless New Yorkers

The passage of Intro 146 will significantly increase the CityFHEPS rental assistance program, potentially making over 70,000 new apartments accessible to voucher holders.
Photo: Carl Ridderstråle for Wikipedia Commons

The New York City Council passed a bill last Thursday that will significantly increase the ability for homeless New Yorkers to find housing through the City's rental voucher program, CityFHEPS.

For years CityFHEPS has been seen as a false hope for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness, with only about 5% of voucher holders finding housing through the program each month.

The passage of Intro 146, sponsored by Brooklyn Councilmember Stephen Levin, will increase the voucher rates to align with Section 8, the most successful rental assistance program in the country. Where voucher holders were previously capped at $1,265 for a single adult and $1,580 for a family of three or four, voucher rates will rise to $1,945 for an individual and $2,217 for families.

"This bill will be transformative for thousands of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness and will allow many families to finally find permanent, stable housing," Levin said.

The bill also serves as a victory for many homeless advocates who have long been fighting for a more equitable voucher program.

"After years of fighting to end 'tickets to humiliation' and create a housing voucher program that pays market rents, Intro 146 was passed into law today," Joseph Loonam, Housing Campaign coordinator at the Brooklyn-based advocacy organization Vocal-NY said. "This victory is a testament to the power of homeless New Yorkers who fought for this bill."

The increase to CityFHEPS vouchers has the potential to make a significant impact. Near the end of 2020, there were only 564 apartments listed at low enough rents for voucher holders to qualify for, according to data from Streeteasy. Now, with rates reflecting those of Section 8, it is estimated that over 70,000 more apartments will become accessible.

This growth in potential housing opportunities for homeless New Yorkers comes at a pivotal time. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the city's growing homelessness issue, resulting in a record 20,822 single adults spending the night at city shelters in February 2021. In addition, thousands of New Yorkers are at risk of losing their homes when the eviction moratorium is lifted on August 31.

Still, many advocates say the passage of Intro 146 was weakened with last minute tweaks that could have a negative impact on homeless New Yorkers. According to the Fulton Street based advocacy group Neighbors Together, a clause was taken out that allowed recipients to keep their voucher until they are financially self-sufficient. Anybody making over 250% of the federal poverty level (FPL) would no longer be able to keep their voucher.

"They will be forced to choose between living wage jobs and their housing," Neighbors Together said in a statement. "Earning 250% FPL is not even close to enough income to continue to pay market rate rent in New York City."

For organizations like Neighbors Together and Vocal-NY, these last minute changes signify more work to be done.

"Homeless New Yorkers know how seemingly minor policy shifts can have major impacts on people's lives, and these changes will undoubtedly force many people back to shelters or the streets," Loonam said.

"It's clear that the fight is not over."