New York desperately needs a housing voucher program


January 4, 2023

By Kashida Davis

Seven years ago, I was kicked out of my home. I was pregnant, and I was unable to work because my doctor had put me on bed rest.

For months, I shuffled throughout the city, from shelter to shelter, desperately trying to find a safe place to live. I was met with “no” at every turn. “No” to a decent shelter. “No” to a unit through NYC Housing Connect. “No” to a CityFHEPS housing voucher — first because I didn’t owe my former landlord rent, then because I worked too little, and then because I worked too much.

It was an endless and tumultuous battle that countless New York families are still fighting today.

On any given night, 92,000 New Yorkers live in shelters and on the streets. Thousands are uncounted and doubled- or tripled-up in apartments, and non-citizen, immigrant households bear the brunt of our state’s worsening housing emergency.

This is a crucial point for New York. We’re in the midst of the worst housing crisis since the Great Depression, and our state leaders have a moral obligation to ensure New Yorkers have the safe and stable housing they deserve.

Last year, Gov. Hochul and state lawmakers failed to fund the Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP), the most inclusive rental assistance program in recent history. HAVP would be a permanent, statewide program and ensure thousands of New York families keep a roof over their heads.

New York’s leaders can’t make the same mistake again. For mothers like me, and for every New Yorker, it’s time to pass HAVP.

The governor knows this moment requires an ambitious vision. She recently called for a “bold and audacious” housing plan to address the crisis and has committed to create 800,000 housing units over the next 10 years. In a state with a critical shortage of affordable housing units for extremely low-income households, Hochul is right to dramatically increase housing supply, though there must be a strong commitment to build a significant number of affordable units for low-income households.

But we can’t build new housing overnight. The housing development process — from planning to leasing up — can take on average four to seven years, oftentimes longer. New York families with children are on the brink of losing their homes now. They can’t wait that long.

In October, 671 New York City families entered Department of Homeless Services shelters. By the time the first units pledged under Hochul’s development plan open, as many as 32,200 new families could have already entered shelter.

Across the state, evictions are skyrocketing. Erie County judges have issued 3,700 eviction warrants this year, and in New York City, evictions increased every month from January to June. The city’s shelter population is rising rapidly, and the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program could close this month — exactly one year after New York’s eviction moratorium ended.

New Yorkers need urgent solutions that will meet the crisis today. If Hochul and state leaders want to reduce the number of unhoused people in our state, they must break down the barriers to housing that left me — and countless families today — without a home.

HAVP will offer New Yorkers immediate rental assistance, helping them both secure the permanent housing they need and keep them in their homes and out of shelter. HAVP is designed to be accessible, flexible, and non-discriminatory, making it the most effective program for moving homeless households into stable, permanent housing and for preventing the vicious cycle of homelessness altogether.

A state housing voucher would reach thousands of New Yorkers unserved by the underfunded and overly restrictive existing rental assistance programs. New York must pass this essential legislation and provide $250 million to fund HAVP in 2023.

Countless New Yorkers can’t wait.

Davis is a housing and anti-homelessness advocate. She is a Family Homelessness Coalition fellow and hosts the Hear Our Voices podcast, sharing stories about family homelessness and resources for families at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness.

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