January 18, 2023
Thank you, Chair Ayala and members of the City Council Committee on General Welfare for the opportunity to submit written testimony.
Founded in 1994, New Destiny is a New York City-based nonprofit committed to ending the cycle of domestic violence and homelessness for low-income families and individuals. We build and manage supportive, affordable housing and through our rapid rehousing program, Housing Access, we connect survivors with safe, permanent housing. 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 impacted advocates committed to tackling homelessness among families in our city.
We are grateful to Council Member Ayala and Committee members for their demonstrated commitment to improving the lives of New York’s most vulnerable by conducting this oversight hearing on the CityFHEPS Rental Assistance Program and introducing the three bills and the resolution in today’s agenda.
Domestic violence has been the number one driver of family homelessness in New York City for far too long.1 In 2021, more than 10,000 New Yorkers entered the Human Resources Administration (HRA) domestic violence shelter system, 95% of them were in families with minors,2 while 39% of families who entered the separate Department of Homeless Services (DHS) shelter system identified domestic violence as the primary reason for their homelessness.3 With so few housing resources, once in shelter, survivors are far more likely to remain in shelter rather than to move to an apartment. Fifty three percent of survivors with minors that left HRA domestic violence shelter in 2021 moved to another shelter instead of permanent housing. That is more than 1 in 2 families that left shelter for shelter.
HRA capacity issues have seriously impacted the quality of services and aggravated the homelessness crisis. Survivors in shelter have reported significant delays in receiving CityFHEPS; once they obtain the voucher, and are able to find apartments, they experience long waits for package and check processing; and when they finally move in, it is often reported that payments to landlords are not made on time, putting them at risk of losing their apartment. It is critical that HRA is properly staffed and adequately funded. We urge the City Council to opposed the proposed staff reductions to HRA and to advocate that the agency receives the resources and support necessary to rapidly fill vacancies.
New Destiny, alongside New Yorkers impacted by homelessness, FHC, and partner organizations, for months have called on the administration to eliminate the CityFHEPS 90-day shelter stay rule and expand eligibility for all low-income New Yorkers, including noncitizens. We are grateful to Deputy Speaker Ayala and Council Member Sanchez for introducing legislations that would make CityFHEPS a more accessible homelessness prevention tool. New Destiny supports the intent of all proposed legislations: Intro 878, Intro 894, and Intro 893, as well as Reso 465.
Intro 878 would prohibit the Department of Social Services (DSS) from requiring an individual or family to reside in shelter before becoming eligible for a CityFHEPS rental assistance voucher. This proposed legislation goes a step further from eliminating the 90-day rule to not requiring applicants to have lived in shelter as a precondition to receive a rental assistance voucher.
Intro 894 would remove the current requirement that an individual or family demonstrate they are employed in order to become eligible for CityFHEPS. Many survivors are prohibited from working by their abusive partner and many others are forced to quit their jobs because of fleeing. Not requiring households to be working to qualify makes CityFHEPS a critical resource for survivors of domestic violence who are fleeing or attempting to flee to safe housing. The bill would also increase the maximum total gross income for eligibility for CityFHEPS from 200% of the federal poverty level (currently $46,060 for a family of 3) to 50% of the area median income ($60,050 for a family of 3).
Intro 893 would remove certain criteria that DSS currently uses to determine whether a household that is neither living in shelter nor experiencing street homelessness is eligible for a CityFHEPS. Additionally, the bill would provide households with the opportunity to demonstrate risk of eviction with a rent demand letter as a means to meet eligibility for CityFHEPS. This proposed legislation would permanently reinstate a temporary change adopted by the city during the height of the COVID pandemic, which eliminated the housing court requirement to qualify for CityFHEPS and allowed people to be eligible by showing verified rent demand. We should not force low-income New Yorkers to go through the traumatizing and costly eviction process before they are able to access rental assistance, and instead, we should prevent eviction further upstream in the process.
Resolution 465 calls on the state legislature to enact S1631, sponsored by Senator Kavanagh, which would make CityFHEPS available to all New Yorkers who qualify regardless of immigration status. In New York City, 59% of immigrant families with children headed by a non-citizen pay more than 30% of their monthly income in rent.4 They are also more likely to experience overcrowding and evictions.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony. New Destiny looks forward to working with the Council and the administration to advance these initiatives.
We welcome any questions you may have.
Gabriela Sandoval Requena
Director of Policy and Communications
gsrequena [at] newdestinyhousing [dot] org
1 Silkowski, A. (2019). Housing Survivors: How New York City Can Increase Housing Stability for Survivors of Domestic Violence. New York, NY: Comptroller Bureau of Policy and Research Bureau of Budget. Retrieved from: https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/Housing_Survivors_102119.pdf
2 NYC Department of Social Services (2022). 2021 Annual Report on Exits from NYC Domestic Violence Shelters.
3 NYC Department of Homeless Services Shelter Eligibility Data.
4 Citizen’s Committee for Children of New York (2022). Housing Security in New York City, 2021. Retrieved from: https://cccnewyork.org/data-publications/housing-security-in-nyc-2021