Testimony by Carol Corden on NYC Council bill Intro. 1211

Testimony of New Destiny Housing Corporation
Committee on Housing and Buildings – Int. 1211-2018
January 14, 2019

Submitted by
Carol Corden, Executive Director, New Destiny Housing Corporation

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony to the Committee on Housing and Buildings hearing on Intro. 1211. My name is Carol Corden and I am the Executive Director of New Destiny Housing, a 25-year old not-for-profit committed to ending the cycle of domestic violence and homelessness by connecting families to safe, permanent housing and services. New Destiny currently owns and operates five service-enriched affordable housing projects where at least half of the apartments are set aside for homeless domestic violence survivors and their children.

New Destiny supports New York City Council’s Intro. 1211, which requires developers who receive city financial assistance for housing development projects that create or preserve more than fifteen dwelling units to set aside at least 15 percent of dwelling units for homeless individuals and families.

We do not endorse this legislation lightly.

We understand that homelessness is one of New York City’s—and the nation’s—most challenging and persistent problems. We also acknowledge that the current Administration has attempted to grapple with this issue through a number of important and innovative programs including Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and substantially increasing the number of very low-income units in the Mayor’s Housing New York plan– efforts that are helping to prevent more economically-vulnerable households from slipping into homelessness. This Administration has also developed a plan to build more and better shelters and to reduce DHS’s dependence on cluster sites and hotels. These are all worthy efforts.

New Destiny also recognizes that HPD, like any agency, must have the flexibility, based on its experience and expertise, to adapt the terms of its housing and tax incentive programs to achieve the best outcomes for the City. The proposed legislation does limit HPD’s flexibility and control over its programs.

However, the primary need of homeless families and individuals—permanent affordable housing—has not been adequately addressed by the Administration’s affordable housing plan. The proposed minimum set-aside in Intro. 1211 of 15% is a reasonable mandate given the scale of the crisis.

The sheer size of the homeless problem requires a radical and targeted approach. In November 2018, 76,000 people were sheltered in one of the City’s several systems (unduplicated count based on Local Law 37 data for November 2018).

An equally important consideration is who the homeless are. Almost 70% are families with children. Thirty-six per cent (36%) of those sheltered were children. In the City’s largest shelter system, operated by DHS, families were staying, on average, 436 days. The cost to children of prolonged stays in shelter is enormous, negatively affecting their education, social development, physical and mental health—in short, their future life chances. The immediate cost in dollars and cents to the City is also immense; housing a family with children in a shelter in FY 18 cost over $70,000 a year.

Intro. 1211 is an important first step in responding to the scale of the homelessness problem in New York City. By mandating a minimum set-aside in any residential project receiving “city financial assistance” and defining that assistance broadly to include tax exemptions and abatements, land conveyances at discounted value, debt forgiveness, and zoning bonuses as well as subsidies, loans and grants, the proposed bill includes most of the tools available to HPD to create or incentivize affordable housing. As such it will increase substantially the number of permanent affordable housing units specifically for homeless households.

But, obtaining permanent housing is the greatest, but not the only, challenge homeless households face. Retaining housing can be difficult as well. To make the implementation of Intro. 1211 successful, the City must begin to address two other needs of homeless families and individuals: (1) post-shelter services and (2) a long term project-based subsidy for homeless families and individuals selected for set-aside units.

New Destiny, which provides permanent affordable housing to previously homeless families headed by domestic violence survivors, can testify to the importance of on-site voluntary services to ensure the long-term housing stability of our tenants. Previously homeless families often have never lived on their own and may not understand the obligations of rent payment and tenancy. Moreover, they are frequently dealing with the consequences of homelessness (loss of social contacts, disruptions to work and school, stress and trauma) as well as with extreme poverty. The complex issues faced by formerly homeless individuals and families can lead to housing instability if there are no on-site services or access to services. Landlords, meanwhile, lose rent and must pay for legal costs, both of which impact the long term economic viability of the entire project.

New Destiny’s experience and concern about the lack of services for homeless households post-shelter is broadly shared not just by nonprofit housing providers but also by for-profit affordable housing developers and owners who are the prime movers of the Mayor’s Housing New York plan. Services for previously homeless households will help ameliorate the concerns affordable housing developers may have about homeless set-asides.

In addition to post-shelter services, most homeless families and individuals will require rental subsidies to ensure their long-term housing stability. Providing long-term project-based subsidies for previously homeless households will ensure the affordability of housing for extremely low income families and individuals and strengthen the long-term economic viability of projects with homeless set-asides.

Finally, Intro. 1211 focuses on HPD, the City agency with primary responsibility for implementing Housing New York. HPD alone, however, cannot solve New York City’s homelessness crisis. Homelessness is a complex and multi-faceted issue that demands a similar approach. We can only reduce homelessness with a coordinated, cross-agency approach, managed and led by the Administration that responds to the scale of the crisis. Not taking action risks the health and well-being of individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless – including the very young New Yorkers who make up a significant segment of the shelter population.

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