Testimony to the New York City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings

March 14, 2022

Thank you, Chairperson Sanchez and members of the City Council Housing and Buildings Committee for the opportunity to submit written testimony.
Founded in 1994, New Destiny is a nonprofit committed to ending the cycle of violence for low-income families and individuals experiencing homelessness and domestic violence. We build and manage supportive, affordable housing and through our rapid rehousing program, HousingLink, we connect survivors of domestic violence with safe, permanent housing in New York City. New Destiny also advocates for housing resources for domestic violence survivors and their families. We invite you to read our 2022 NYC Policy Priorities.

New Destiny is a co-convener of the Family Homelessness Coalition (FHC), a broad group of organizations and New Yorkers with lived experience committed to tackling homelessness among families in the five boroughs.

We commend the New York City Council and the Housing and Buildings Committee for this Budget and Oversight Hearing on the Preliminary Budget for Fiscal Year 2023. New Destiny would like to take this opportunity to urge our city to invest in affordable housing to address the dire supply shortage and in one of the key housing agencies: Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND FAMILY HOMELESSNESS

According to the most recent federal data, more than 1 in 4 Americans experiencing family homelessness in shelter are in New York City,1 and, in New York City, the number one driver of family homelessness is domestic violence. In 2020, more than 9,400 individuals entered the Human Resources Administration (HRA) domestic violence shelter system and 95 percent were families with children.2 Similarly, thousands of other families who entered the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) shelter system identified domestic violence as the primary reason for their homelessness.3

With few available housing resources, once in shelter, victims are far more likely to exit HRA domestic violence emergency shelter for another shelter rather than to a permanent home. The Department of Social Services’ 2020 Annual Report on Exits from NYC Domestic Violence Shelters shows that 53 percent of the 2,341 families with children that left domestic violence emergency shelter were transferred to other shelters upon reaching the state-mandated time limit.4 That is more than 1 in 2 families with minors that left shelter for shelter.

Family homelessness is a gender and racial equity issue as single mothers of color are overwhelmingly impacted. In the DHS system, 94 percent of families with children are headed by Black or Latinx New Yorkers, and 9 of 10 households are headed by women.5

The lack of deeply affordable housing in New York City is a major contributing factor to our homelessness crisis. New Destiny is concerned about the impact that the Mayor’s preliminary budget, which imposes 3 percent cuts across most city agencies, including HPD, will have on the capacity to develop much needed additional affordable housing.

ADDRESSING THE GROWING AFFORDABLE HOUSING CRISIS

Increase staffing at HPD: HPD was subject to a hiring freeze for most of 2021 and, even though this was lifted, the agency continues to struggle with serious understaffing. As a supportive housing developer for domestic violence survivors, we have experienced first-hand delays with our projects. Fewer staff has significantly slowed down the vital pipeline of affordable housing our city so desperately needs.

Additionally, HPD is facing an increase in their workload this year due to the nearly 8,000 Emergency Housing Vouchers made available by the federal government. If HPD staffing is not increased to meet demand, there will be a huge bottleneck that will delay households’ moves into permanent housing and may lead the city to lose this once in a lifetime allocation of new Section 8 vouchers. New Destiny urges the administration to exempt HPD from staffing cuts and to ensure that vacancies are filled rapidly.

Invest in a comprehensive affordable housing plan: As a member of the United for Housing coalition, New Destiny calls on the city to invest $4 billion per year to fund a comprehensive affordable housing plan, including $2.5 billion for HPD. This is something Mayor Adams committed to during his campaign but failed to deliver on in his preliminary budget. New Destiny urges the Mayor to honor his promise to double the city’s housing capital investment to $4 billion per year.

BUDGET NEUTRAL OPPORTUNITIES TO INCREASE ACCESS TO HOUSING RESOURCES

Expand Access to Homeless Set-Asides: HPD requires developers who receive certain capital subsidy to set aside at least 15 percent of their units for homeless individuals and families. These units are commonly referred to as homeless set-asides. While this program creates over 2,000 homeless set-aside units annually, none of them are made available to households in HRA domestic violence shelters, youth shelters, or any other population served in a specialized, non-DHS shelter. Currently, only individuals and families in the DHS shelter system can access these units. This clear inequity based on classification is highly inefficient since it contributes to longer vacancies.

Open Supportive Housing to Homeless Domestic Violence Survivors: Domestic violence survivors and their families are also excluded from city-funded supportive housing, despite comprising the largest share of New Yorkers in DHS and HRA shelters. The city should make victims of domestic violence an additional priority population, as the state does, and amend the eligibility requirement for homeless families by removing the chronicity condition. The chronicity requirement is two-fold: first, families must experience homelessness for at least one year, which is a significant barrier for domestic violence survivors who are often moved from one shelter system to another; and second, they must have a diagnosed disability, something domestic violence survivors rarely divulge for fear of losing custody of their children to their abuser. As demand for supportive housing in New York continues to outstrip supply, the city must open its supportive housing initiative to the domestic violence victims and their families, who are among the most vulnerable.

These two administrative modifications do not cost the city anything and will help families move out of shelter faster and reduce shelter costs. New Destiny urges the Council to advocate to the Adams administration to make these changes.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony. I welcome any questions you may have and look forward to working together.

Gabriela Sandoval Requena
Senior Policy Analyst at New Destiny Housing
gsrequena@newdestinyhousing.org

Endnotes

1   The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, The 2021 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, page 29

2   NYC Department of Social Services, 2020 Annual Report on Exits from NYC Domestic Violence Shelters, page 3

3   Office of the New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Housing Survivors: How New York City Can Increase Housing Stability for Survivors of Domestic Violence, October 2019, page 4

4   Ibid

5   Kang, Sheena, “What the F is a Feminist Housing Plan?” Citizens Housing & Planning Council, page 62

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