Testimony of New Destiny at the Joint Hearing Committees on Housing & Buildings and Oversight and Investigation

Re: Int 1757-2019 A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to modifications to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development housing portal

January 13, 2020

Presented by
Carol Corden, Executive Director

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today at this Joint Oversight Hearing regarding updates to the Housing Connect portal. My name is Carol Corden and I am the Executive Director at New Destiny Housing Corporation, 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 six service-enriched affordable housing projects where at least half of the apartments are set aside for homeless domestic violence survivors and their children. Three other projects are under construction.

We understand, and wholeheartedly support, Local Law 64’s intent of increasing constituent understanding of and access to City-assisted affordable housing in New York City.

However, we are also concerned about the unintended consequences that the proposed legislation will have on very low-income survivors of domestic violence.

New Destiny operates a rapid rehousing program called HousingLink in partnership with the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender Based Violence. HousingLink connects victims of domestic violence with vacant re-rental units managed by affordable housing providers throughout New York City.

HousingLink staff are co-located in five borough-based Family Justice Centers, operated by the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender Based Violence, that serve as one-stop comprehensive service centers for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The Family Justice Centers offer a range of services to victims in a safe, culturally-sensitive environment. One of the many services provided is housing assistance. The Family Justice Center case managers refer victims requesting housing help to the on-site HousingLink staff.

This unique program is based on a HUD best practice for families at risk of homelessness that has been successfully operated in other parts of the country for domestic violence survivors who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. HousingLink has also been independently evaluated by ActKnowledge and found to be a promising practice that deserves to be scaled up.

HousingLink offers an alternative to shelter for New York City survivors fleeing domestic violence who are in unsafe or unstable housing and are trying to avoid becoming homeless. Through the program, New Destiny has been able to place 108 households in permanent, affordable housing – helping them to avoid shelter or to significantly shorten their shelter stay. And, the vast majority of those placed have retained their housing for well over one year.

Based on our experience, we know rapid rehousing is a cost-effective approach that can reduce the number of survivors using shelter as well as the traumatic effects of homelessness for victims and their children and can do this even in a high-cost housing market like New York City.

The success of this program, developed and operated with the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender Based Violence, relies upon strong relationships with affordable housing owners and managers. The program works with landlords to quickly fill their re-rental or turnover units with clients of the Family Justice Centers, survivors of domestic or gender-based violence who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

City-assisted affordable housing has been the focus of this effort for several reasons. First, it tends to be both high-quality housing as well as affordable to very low-income households who comprise HousingLink’s clients. Secondly, City-assisted affordable housing is rent-stabilized so that it remains affordable over time to the households placed in it.

Local Law 64 will require all City-financed affordable housing units, including re-rentals, to go through the Housing Connect portal and lottery. As currently drafted, individuals and families forced to flee domestic violence will no longer have access to safe, affordable housing through rapid rehousing, a HUD best practice and a valuable tool for preventing homelessness.

Domestic violence is one of the main drivers of homelessness in New York City. In the 2018 and 2019 HUD Point In Time (PIT) Count for New York City, victims of domestic violence were the third largest homeless sub-population in NYC after the severely mentally ill and people with substance abuse disorders. Most domestic violence survivors in shelter bring their children with them so the number of people in this group is considerably larger.

These first two extremely vulnerable homeless subpopulations – people who have a severe mental illness and individuals with substance abuse disorders – have access to traditional supportive housing that will be exempt from Local Law 64.

Most survivors of domestic violence, however, do not have access to supportive housing or to homeless set-asides in City-assisted housing. City and State resources for very low-income survivors have been invested in short-term shelter as opposed to prevention and long-term safety.

HousingLink, the rapid rehousing program developed by the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender Based Violence and New Destiny, is an exception to this. The partnerships HousingLink has developed with affordable housing landlords have helped survivors of domestic violence obtain affordable permanent housing relatively quickly – to avoid shelter or shorten their time in shelter — and to remain stably housed.

New Destiny recognizes that Local Law 64 was not intended to further marginalize very low-income survivors of domestic violence and recommends that the legislation be amended to facilitate rapid rehousing programs.

We are asking that the City Council clarify the language in Local Law 64 to ensure that the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender Based Violence be included in the exemption from the law for direct referrals from a “government agency or instrumentality.” Currently, the law allows for units that will be filled by “direct referral from a government agency or instrumentality” to bypass the lottery system and receive an applicant directly from that referral source. The Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender Based Violence, through their five borough-based Family Justice Centers, is the referral source for survivors of domestic violence seeking assistance with housing from HousingLink program.

The inclusion of the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender Based Violence will permit HousingLink to continue its critical work rehousing very low-income victims who are homeless or at risk of homelessness because of domestic violence.

Rapid rehousing programs, like HousingLink, cannot end homelessness caused by domestic violence but they are an important tool for reducing the number of families forced into shelter by their circumstances. Given the large numbers of survivors who become homeless and the large numbers of children impacted by domestic violence, the City must prevent survivors, where possible, from being forced into shelter. Where shelter is the only option, we should seek better outcomes at the end of shelter stays by ensuring equal access to the housing options available to other homeless subpopulations.

We urge the Council to recognize the importance of the work being done by the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender Based Violence and New Destiny and to amend Local Law 64 to protect the continuation of this work.

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