Housing-First Solutions: Council’s Housing Support Reforms Make Financial & Moral Sense


July 17, 2023

By: Julie Kronick

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Big news arrived last Thursday afternoon at City Hall as the New York City Council overrode the Mayor’s veto of the previously passed CityFHEPS bill package. The package includes four bills with reforms that would expand eligibility to the city’s rental assistance voucher program that utilizes a housing-first approach to reducing homelessness. City Council Members, housing advocates, and allies across the city are celebrating this legislation as a win for housing security—if you’re wondering why, let’s look at the facts, figures, and reactions.

Identifying a Major Issue Across NYC

Over the past several months you may have seen several numbers and statistics related to housing and homelessness from city leaders and advocacy organizations alike. Stacking these data together illustrates that New York City is experiencing one of the worst housing affordability crises in decades, and perhaps the first of its kind, too.

Some recent data on homeless shelters includes:

Some recent data on rent and evictions includes:

  • 53% of NYC families with children are rent burdened, spending more than 30% of their income on rent. Additionally, 29% of renter households citywide face a severe rent burden, meaning they spend more than 50% of their income on rent. (CCC: Median Rent Burden & Severe Rent Burden)
  • The average rent in Manhattan climbed to $4,595 a month as of June 2023. (USA Today)
  • The New York City Rent Guidelines Board voted to approve a 3% increase on one-year rent stabilized leases. The board also upped two-year leases by 2.75% for the first year, and 3.2% for the second. (NYC Rent Guidelines Board)
  • There are currently over 117,000 eviction cases filed with the city as of July 15, 2023, while approval for “one-shot deal” payments to help NYC residents with rental arrears are down 53%. (NYC Courts & Gothamist)

These data collectively paint a very clear and strong picture of the financial struggle so many households in NYC face while trying to access and maintain housing stability. And, as rent increases take effect, it is likely that eviction cases will also increase.

Housing Vouchers Impact and Potential

The Status Quo Isn’t Working

As mentioned above, a recent Gothamist article reported on the rise in homelessness compared to emergency assistance loans, stating “New York City’s social services agency is rejecting tens of thousands of tenants who apply for emergency assistance loans to cover their back rent, even as evictions rise and the homeless shelter system is stretched to the brink, city records show.” There are exceptionally high numbers of households behind on rent payments and at risk for eviction, if not already involved in the process. We are now just halfway through the year, and the number of eviction cases filed has already reached nearly 60% of what the total was in 2022.

With shelters at capacity in record numbers alongside these eviction numbers, current methods of curbing and reducing homelessness are no longer making an impact for our neighbors and city.  In fact, according to NYC Comptroller’s Office’s Audit of the Department of Homeless Services’ Role in the “Cleanups” of Homeless Encampments released in late June, “Of the 2,308 individuals present during ‘cleanups’ conducted between March 21, 2022 and November 30, 2022, only 119 (or 5%) accepted temporary shelter.“ Dubbed “homeless sweeps”, Mayor Adams’ implemented a task force to dismantle encampments which ultimately resulted in just 3 out of 2,308 individuals securing permanent housing. As of this year, according to the latest HOPE Count survey, there are over 4,000 individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness, up 18% from the last count. Unfortunately, these numbers signify that the problem is not being addressed to properly tackle housing insecurity.

That’s where the CityFHEPS reforms will hopefully step in to change the course. Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (CityFHEPS) is a city-administered rent supplement to help homeless households in shelter secure stable housing or to support households who are in danger of losing their current housing, based on eligibility factors. Up until the City Council’s latest bill package, however, eligibility was challenging and limited. These four bills amend requirements that previously held back certain households from eligibility, either due to finances or shelter stay, and make it easier for families and individuals to maintain their current housing status, bolstering a housing-first approach to curbing homelessness in our city. The four bills are as follows:

  • Intro 878, sponsored by Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala, ends the 90-Day Rule requirement that voucher applicants live in shelter for 90-days before they are eligible to apply for vouchers.
  • Intro 893, sponsored by Council Member Pierina Ana Sanchez, permits accepting a rent-demand letter from landlords instead of a housing court eviction for CityFHEPS eligibility.
  • Intro 894, sponsored by Council Member Pierina Ana Sanchez, eliminates work requirements, and raises the income eligibility for rental assistance vouchers.
  • Intro 229, sponsored by Council Member Tiffany Cabán, prohibits the deduction of utility costs from the maximum rental allowance.

The Financial Sense in Keeping Families Housed

Though pushback from the Administration suggests that these reforms will increase costs for the city, numbers crunched by WIN NYC on current costs and supported by the City Council and other advocates indicate the opposite. In a new report on CityFHEPS by WIN numbers show that, “On a per person basis, the cost of doing nothing and allowing individuals to become homeless is $18,883 as opposed to just $10,950 to prevent homelessness with the CityFHEPS voucher, a savings of $7,933 per person per year.” Previous WIN data also broke down the cost of housing a family of three per night: housing the family in a traditional shelter costs the city $188 per night or $383 per night if it’s an emergency hotel shelter, but only $72 a night for that same family to use a housing voucher.

Data from Community Service Society of New York likewise shows expanding CityFHEPS to households facing eviction would save the city $5.6 billion over 5 years. As the WIN numbers show, allowing families to lose housing brings on an enormous cost for the city, and financially and emotionally burdens families more than necessary. There is a growing body of research now, too, that shows how keeping people housed makes both financial and emotional sense for communities. Research on the Housing First program, where chronically homeless people with a behavioral condition diagnosis received supportive housing in over 10 cities in the U.S. and Canada, shows that providing permanent housing increased household earnings by an average of $10,000 per year, while also saving taxpayers an average of $12,000 per year per person. This complements the NYC-specific data above on annual savings the city would secure by preventing eviction.

Our Advocacy and Beyond

Implementing solutions to housing insecurity through a housing-first lens is especially crucial now as NYC faces a severe homelessness crisis with evictions on the rise. CCC has been supportive of CityFHEPS reforms since discussions began and before that, too. You can even take a look back at some of our housing-specific testimony to track discussions on CityFHEPS through a CCC lens: here and here are two such documents.

Along with other dedicated housing and homelessness advocates, CCC’s executive director Jennifer March submitted a quote for a press release on the historic override of the CityFHEPS bill package stating, “On any given night, more than 30,000 children sleep in a shelter in New York City. No parent or child should ever wonder if they and their family members will have a safe place to sleep at night. I’m grateful to the City Council for advancing critical measures today that will better ensure families can stay in their homes and out of shelter, and that families who do experience homelessness can quickly access safe, stable housing. Housing vouchers are a necessary tool to bring an end to homelessness in New York City, and the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York applauds the City Council’s steadfast commitment to meeting the needs of our city’s most vulnerable populations.” Read this statement and others here.

CCC will continue our efforts to support and advance housing-first solutions to help families and children experiencing housing instability, both independently and collaboratively as part of the Family Homelessness Coalition (FHC). We look forward to continued partnerships with city leaders and advocacy organizations to continue influencing important systemic changes.

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