Commentary: Housing leaders agree — it’s time for a statewide voucher program


March 24, 2023

Amid a crushing wave of homelessness, rental assistance will be a lifeline for tens of thousands of New Yorkers.

By Basha Gerhards, Catherine Trapani, and Beatriz de la Torre

Our worsening housing crisis is putting New York’s families under increasing strain every day. As leaders from across the housing and homeless services sectors, we know that a statewide housing voucher program is a critical tool for helping those families and preventing homelessness.

Rising rental prices, the end of pandemic-era aid, and a severe shortage of affordable options — not just in New York City but across the state — are making it harder and harder for New Yorkers to find and keep stable housing. The result: More than 90,000 people are homeless on any given night in New York state, and hundreds of thousands more are living on the brink of eviction.

Shelters, while necessary, are not a long-term solution to our state’s homelessness crisis. New Yorkers are counting on leaders in Albany to advance a comprehensive housing policy toolkit that addresses both supply challenges and the needs of the state’s most vulnerable renters. A diverse array of housing stakeholders — property owners, social service providers, advocates, philanthropists and elected officials — agree that this policy toolkit must include expanding access to housing vouchers. That’s why we are calling for the passage of legislation to create the Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP).

HAVP would provide rental assistance to New Yorkers experiencing homelessness or at risk of losing their homes, reducing reliance on our overburdened shelter system. The bill would also ensure recipients don’t pay more than 30 percent of their income towards rent. With rising inflation, a potential recession, and a housing affordability crisis, this cap on housing costs for vulnerable tenants can make a world of difference. If passed, HAVP would help 10,000 households find permanent housing and help another 10,000 to stay in their homes in its first year alone.

If organizations as varied as the Real Estate Board of New York, a trade association of building owners and developers; Homeless Services United, a coalition of mission-driven nonprofit homeless services providers; and Trinity Church Wall Street can come together to support this program, it should be clear to our state leaders that the time for this effective solution is now.

HAVP is also sensible economic policy. A recent study from the NYU Furman Center estimated the annual cost of HAVP would be just $250 million by the program’s third year – far less than the $6 billion the governor’s office initially projected last year. The program could also help the state save money over the long term by reducing shelter costs.

In addition, the program would boost economic mobility for thousands of households: Rental assistance would allow them to secure a home base, bring stability to their children’s lives, and pay for other critical expenses such as food and child care.

With all this in mind, it’s no surprise that momentum around HAVP is increasing in the Legislature. With more than 90 co-sponsors and counting, both the Senate and Assembly allocated $250 million for HAVP in their one-house budgets.

The benefits of expanding access to rental assistance to more New York families cannot be overstated. It can make the difference between staying in their apartment and subjecting their children to the life-altering trauma of becoming homeless. For landlords, it’s a common-sense solution for tenants at risk of eviction. Will leaders in Albany seize the opportunity to add HAVP to the policy toolkit? Given Gov. Kathy Hochul’s commitment to addressing New York’s homelessness crisis, the answer should be clear.

Basha Gerhards is senior vice president of planning for the Real Estate Board of New York. Catherine Trapani is executive director of Homeless Services United in New York City. Beatriz de la Torre is the managing director for housing and homelessness at Trinity Church Wall Street.

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