Hon. Carl Heastie
Speaker, New York State Assembly
New York State Capitol Room 349
Albany, NY 12247
Dear Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie,
Housing Justice for All is a statewide coalition of over 70 organizations that are fighting to eliminate evictions, end homelessness, and invest in housing across New York. Last year, we were honored to work with the State Assembly to strengthen tenant protections in New York. Today, we are writing because we know that there is so much more that we need to do: in the face of a public health emergency, it is urgent that we invest in effective, fast-acting rental assistance programs for homeless New Yorkers and New Yorkers at risk of homelessness.
Across New York State, public officials are struggling to make a difficult policy choice: how can we close public schools in the face of a pandemic without adverse impacts on needy students? More than one hundred thousand students are homeless, and many more rely on our public schools for food and basic support. This issue hits home: in your district, more than 10,000 public school students are homeless, living in shelters and without the basic resources they need to stay healthy.1
Given this political climate, it is concerning that the State Assembly is supporting the Statewide Homelessness Reduction Program (SHARP) program2 — a program that relies on setting up new “task forces” to distribute resources, including but not limited to rent assistance, to homeless New Yorkers. In this moment of crisis, it is vital that we do everything we can to rapidly stabilize New York’s homeless. We know that rent assistance is the most immediate way to help New Yorkers escape homelessness and those at risk of homelessness, avoid eviction. For that reason, we have been fighting for the Housing Access Voucher Program (A9657-A/S7628-A)3 and Home Stability Support (A1620/S2375). We call on you to scrap plans for SHARP, and adequately fund HAVP and HSS in the State Budget.
We are thrilled to learn $450 million dollars will be included in the Assembly one-house bill for rental assistance, but we urge you to consider the following concerns:
- Government agencies, who are accountable to the public, must be in charge of distributing vouchers: Resources through SHARP would be distributed through task forces made up of nonprofits and other entities. The government should not avoid its responsibilities and give unaccountable task forces the power to decide how to distribute hundreds of millions of dollars. It has been our experience that creating task forces results in delays in addressing the crisis of homelessness. It would be better to entrust the resources to local public housing authorities, who have successfully run the federal Section 8 program for decades.
- All resources should be spent on rental assistance: As it stands, SHARP sets resources aside for services like “landlord incentives,” “housing rehabilitation,” and “behavioral health services.” While we support some of the services proposed, we know that many municipalities provide funding for these services on their own. Funding as many vouchers as possible should be the top priority, as 92,000 people remain in shelter across the state and need access to immediate support. Housing is greatly needed across the state, yet under SHARP, the state is only considering mandating New York City to use 50% of the funding for housing. New York State must aim to end homelessness in every city, and use rental assistance as a tool to get there.
- At least 50% of the resources should be set aside for homeless households who are in shelter or living on the street: For years, homeless New Yorkers have had few pathways out of shelters or off of the street.
- Rental assistance should cover 100% of Fair Market Rent (FMR): SHARP would only cover 85% of FMR while allowing individual localities to pay for the remaining 15%. We have seen how this works in New York City — people have little access to the fair market, and they are forced to move to specific neighborhoods that are often far from the communities they came from. Likewise housing quality standards must be required.
- People should have access to rental assistance so long as they remain eligible: The SHARP proposal ends after five years. It is harmful for the state to provide resources, only to take it away after families and individuals can stabilize their lives. As it stands, we will see the same results as we saw under the Advantage program.
- The state must increase funding each year to tackle homelessness: As SHARP is written, funding would start at $100 million of funding in the first year, and by the fifth year only $50 million would be allocated to the program. If the goal of SHARP is to reduce our homelessness population as the name of the program suggests, then funding must increase (not decrease) each year to meet the desperate need across our state.
As New Yorkers face a loss of income as a result of COVID-19, we are calling for an immediate eviction moratorium. Over 14,000 New Yorkers have joined our call. But an eviction moratorium is just the first step. COVID-19 is simply highlighting our state’s urgent need for rental assistance. As more and more New Yorkers fall behind on rent, the homelessness crisis can only grow.
But in this moment, the New York State Assembly can take a clear step and face our historic homelessness crisis head on. Together, we can protect hundreds more from eviction. But SHARP cannot achieve these goals.
Instead, we urge you to fund a meaningful program built in sound policy: one that will ensure as many people can be helped and as quickly as possible. We urge you to fight for the Housing Access Voucher Program and Home Stability Support.
Housing Justice for All
Hon. Andrew Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Hon. Andrea Stewart-Cousins
Democratic Leader, New York State Senate
181 State Street, Legislative Office Building – Room 907
Albany, NY 12247
Hon. Brian Kavanagh
Housing Chair, New York State Senate
181 State Street,
Legislative Office Building — Room 512
Hon. Roxanne Persaud
Social Services Chair, New York State Senate
181 State Street,
Legislative Office Building — Room 409
Hon. Steve Cymbrowitz
Housing Chair, New York State Assembly
Legislative Office Building – Room 943
Hon. Andrew Hevesi
Social Services Chair, New York State Assembly
Legislative Office Building — Room 844
1 ^ Homelessness in New York Public Schools Is at a Record High: 114,659 Students https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/15/nyregion/homeless-students-nyc-schools-record.html
2 ^ Assembly Democrats outline new $450 million plan to tackle homelessness across New York https://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ny-assembly-democrats-plan-to-tackle-homelessness-across-state-rent-20200312-74akhwk3zvbspehkfujuar7kli-story.html
3 ^ HAVP is a newly introduced, Section-8-like program that would help New Yorkers pay the rent. While Connecticut and Massachusetts face such a program, New York falls behind.