Mayor Adams Opposes Bills That Could Make It Easier to Leave Shelters
The City Council in New York is set to approve this week a major expansion of a rental subsidy program to help people move out of homeless shelters and into homes more quickly.
But the effort will run into a formidable opponent: Mayor Eric Adams.
A set of bills that the Council is expected to pass on Thursday would get rid of a rule that requires people to stay in shelters for 90 days before they become eligible for city-funded rental vouchers — a move long sought by housing advocates. The bills would expand the number of people eligible for vouchers to include those who receive written demands from their landlords for rent owed.
It is not clear how many people the measures would affect. But in a statement on Tuesday, Mr. Adams pushed back against the bills, which target a city voucher program known as the City Fighting Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement. He said the changes would add “billions onto the backs of New York taxpayers” and remove the city’s ability to “target our limited resources to those most in need.”
The rift within city government unfolds as the homeless shelter population has reached record levels, with an influx of migrants arriving from the southern border colliding with the continuing housing crisis.
Councilwoman Diana Ayala, a Democrat representing parts of East Harlem and the Bronx, who is the main sponsor behind the bill targeting the 90-day rule, said the changes amount to a common-sense solution by letting people already in shelters move out early and make room for newcomers.
“The sooner we start the better,” she said. “Why delay that? Why do we want to prolong a person’s stay in shelter?”
Rental vouchers are, in theory, an effective solution to homelessness: City officials note that less than 1 percent of the families with children who move out of shelters with a voucher return.
But the program faces a number of hurdles.
There are not enough affordable homes, and the city is struggling to subsidize enough new apartments, meaning even if someone has a voucher it can take months to find a place.
Many renters with vouchers have said that they are rejected by landlords, even though voucher discrimination is illegal. And the city has also faced difficulties in running the program. Staffing shortages and dysfunction within agencies can make the process feel capricious for many people seeking housing.
The city has pursued some changes: reducing the hours people are required to work to keep vouchers, for example.
The bills set to be passed on Thursday would represent a bigger overhaul. In addition to targeting the 90-day rule, they would also remove the work requirements.
“We are trying to reduce the amount of time that folks are spending in shelter, and we’re also trying to keep them from entering shelter in the first place,” said Pierina Sanchez, a councilwoman and Bronx Democrat who is behind two of the bills.
New York is the only major city in the country that provides a “right to shelter,” a requirement to provide a bed to anyone who requests one. As the number of homeless people has reached record levels in the city in recent months, the Adams administration has turned to hotels and other options to house them.
The bills’ proponents argue that the cost to the city of additional vouchers would be offset by reduced spending on shelters, mental health services and law enforcement. They contend that having more New Yorkers living in permanent homes would also lead to better public health and a healthier economy.
The financial picture is more complicated, said Andrew Rein, president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog. The commission estimates the city will provide rental assistance to some 11,000 households leaving shelters in the current fiscal year, which ends in the summer — the highest number since the pandemic began.
In the 2015 fiscal year, the city spent about $16 million on rental assistance, according to the commission. In the current fiscal year, the city projects it will spend more than $630 million, with the majority through the voucher program. And the city is only budgeting $192 million for rental assistance next year, Mr. Rein said.
Recent changes, including one that increased the value of vouchers, have contributed to higher costs, according to the commission. Mr. Rein said the city should have a better understanding of how expanding voucher eligibility will increase costs and decide where those costs can be offset.
“It’s not an unreasonable choice,” Mr. Rein said. “But there has to be the companion’s choice of where the money comes from.”
Dana Rubinstein contributed reporting.