NEW YORK (1010 WINS) — The New York City Council passed a package of bills on Thursday to expand access to housing vouchers for homeless and low-income New Yorkers.
All four bills passed by a vote of 41 to seven, a large enough margin to override a veto from Mayor Eric Adams, who opposes the legislation.
Each of the bills is aimed at expanding access to City Family Eviction Prevention Support (CityFHEPS) — a voucher that partially or fully covers the cost of rent.
“Today’s CityFHEPS legislation to remove barriers to accessing housing vouchers will not only help New Yorkers move out of shelters, but also prevent the evictions of New Yorkers most at risk of homelessness,” said Speaker Adrienne Adams. “CityFHEPS vouchers can be powerful tools to help us, but the City’s arcane policies in administering them are counterproductive.”
One bill, 878-A, would remove the requirement that New Yorkers stay in a homeless shelter for 80 days in order to qualify for the voucher.
893-A would broaden the Department of Social Services criteria for eligibilty for CityFHEPS and give New Yorkers the option to present a rent demand letter as evidence of risk of eviction.
894-A would change the threshold for eligibility from 200% of the federal poverty level to 50% of area median income and remove work requirements for the voucher.
229-A prohibits the Department of Social Services from deducting an allowance from vouchers to pay for utilities.
Mayor Eric Adams spoke out against the bills after the vote, though the overwhelming support for the legislation in the Council makes it likely Council members would override any veto from the mayor.
“Earlier this year, we proposed to the City Council that we work together to remove the 90-day rule for families experiencing homelessness to connect them with housing vouchers faster. They rejected that proposal, and today passed a package of bills that will make it harder for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness to exit shelter to permanent housing,” said Adams. “Nearly 20,000 existing voucher holders who cannot currently find housing because of the extremely low vacancy rate in our city would be lumped in with thousands more, including anyone who stops paying rent, for any reason, if they are below 50% of area median income.”
Adams also took issue with the price tag of the legislation, which he claimed is $17 billion over the next five years and characterized as an “attempt to force a tax increase on New Yorkers.”
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said the mayor's cost estimate is premised on incorrect assumptions about how the voucher program works and claimed vouchers are a cheaper alternative to housing people in shelters.
“The administration’s number is exaggerated, and it’s incorrectly based on the city paying the entire cost of an apartment for a voucher holder, which is not how the program works at all,” she said. “Voucher holders pay 30% of their gross income toward their rent. That's not going to stop. They will still pay into their rent. The council’s fiscal impact statement, which leans conservative, is $10 billion over five years."
"We know uninterrupted growth and homelessness would cost the city a whole lot more," she continued. "The numbers are clear that an individual or family living in a homeless shelter costs the city much more than providing them a voucher that pays for part of their rent in an apartment.”
The Council speaker said housing a family of family in an emergency hotel shelter for one year costs the city about $140,000, a higher price tag than housing that same family in a two-bedroom apartment for five years.
The legislation comes as the city’s shelter population has grown to over 80,000 people, an increase driven partially by the arrival of more than 65,000 asylum seekers bussed to New York City from the southern border by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Adams has justified the rollback of the city’s decades-old Right to Shelter law, which requires the city provide a bed to those who ask for one, by pointing to the arrival of asylum seekers.
Supporters of the new legislation say the bills will help transition homeless people out of shelters and alleviate pressure on the system.
“CityFHEPS vouchers have been one of our city's best measures to address the crisis of homelessness,” said Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala, the sponsor for one of the bills. “This package of legislation will remove the barriers that keep New Yorkers from accessing CityFHEPS and transitioning out of our shelter system.”