Testimony to the NYC Council Budget and Oversight Hearings on The Preliminary Budget for Fiscal Year 2022

Published March 17, 2021

Updated May 11, 2021

by Gabriela Sandoval Requena

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today at this Preliminary Budget Hearing for Fiscal Year 2022 on behalf of New Destiny Housing, a 27-year-old nonprofit committed to ending the cycle of domestic violence and homelessness by connecting families to safe, permanent housing and services. My name is Gabriela Sandoval Requena, and I am the Senior Policy Analyst of New Destiny Housing.

Homelessness and Domestic Violence
Domestic violence continues to be the number one driver of family homeless in New York City, with nearly 19,000 survivors and their children entering shelter each year due to abuse. (1) This accounts for shelter entries in both Human Resources Administration (HRA) domestic violence (DV) and Department of Homeless Services (DHS) shelter systems. With over 2,500 emergency beds and more than 330 Tier II units, HRA manages the largest DV shelter system in the country. (2) Additionally, thousands of survivors seek temporary housing directly through the DHS system. (5) City data indicates that 41 percent of families entering DHS shelters cited domestic violence as the cause of their homelessness. (3)

The global COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the predicament of survivors. Stay-at-home orders forced survivors to make the impossible choice between shelter or remaining with their abusers. In New York City, the domestic violence resource website, NYC Hope, saw a 110% increase in traffic when COVID-19 first took hold. (4)

Attaining Affordable Permanent Housing
Survivors and their children struggle to attain affordable permanent housing once they enter the system. For every one survivor that exits HRA DV shelter into permanent housing with a rental subsidy, 16 survivors leave DV shelters for DHS shelter. The Department of Social Services’ 2020 Annual Report on Exits from NYC Domestic Violence Shelters reveals that 37% of the 2,727 households who exited the domestic violence shelters were transferred into the DHS system. That is 1,007 households that left shelter for shelter. This figure includes households that reached the State-set 90-day limit and were streamlined to DHS, as well as clients who were administratively discharged and eventually went to DHS on their own.

This is compared to only 64 households that moved into permanent housing with a voucher or rent subsidy, 3 to supportive housing, and 14 other households to public housing in 2020. Without appropriate resources to attain permanent and affordable housing, survivors and their children are very likely to continue struggling with homelessness and abuse upon leaving DV shelters.

We urge the City to take much needed steps to expand equitable access to housing and address this perpetuating cycle for domestic violence survivors and their children. New Destiny strongly recommends: pass and fund Intro 146-B immediately; allow HRA shelter residents equal access to HPD homeless set-aside units; increase accountability in the HRA domestic violence shelter system by requiring it to maintain a daily census, like DHS does; and leverage federal funding to develop a $10 million Innovation Fund to support best practices that mitigate or avoid the trauma of homelessness.

Level the Playing Field for Homeless Families looking for Housing with a Local Rental Subsidy
Currently, most homeless families, including domestic violence survivors, need a rental subsidy to afford housing in New York. The City created a local rental subsidy, CityFHEPS, to help meet this need but, by including a severe income limitation, a time limit, and a static rent amount that is 29% less than what the competing Section 8 voucher offers, few families are able to use it. The majority of City Council Members have co-sponsored Intro 146-B, which would eliminate these deficiencies with CityFHEPS and set the rent in accordance with Section 8 rates. Housing a family for one year in DHS shelter costs the City approximately $73,000 (6), whereas housing a family at Section 8 rates costs only $26,604. (7) If raising the subsidy rate reduces the time it takes for families to leave shelter by even a few weeks, the program will pay for itself in shelter savings. New Destiny encourages the City Council to pass Intro 146-B immediately.

Open the Door to HPD Homeless Set-Aside Units
NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) creates a critical pipeline from shelter to permanent housing for homeless New Yorkers by requiring most developers who receive their funding to set aside at least 15% of their units for homeless households. While this program creates over 2,000 homeless set-aside units annually (8), none of them are made available to homeless families living in the HRA DV shelters. Currently, the administration only allows individuals and families in the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) shelter system to access these units. New Destiny urges the City to allow survivors in HRA shelters equal access to this housing, which would incur the City no additional funding.

Bring Sunlight & Accountability to the Domestic Violence Homeless System
While the DHS shelter system has significant reporting requirements, including maintaining a daily census, housing outcomes, recidivism rate, shelter cost and length of stay, there is far less data available for the thousands of families and individuals living in the City’s other homeless shelters, including HRA’s domestic violence shelters. This discrepancy in data hides from view some of the City’s most vulnerable people, including homeless domestic violence survivors, people living on the street, homeless youth, homeless individuals living with HIV/AIDS and those in HPD’s shelter system. This results in budget and policy decisions focused on those that are in the public view, with less attention and accountability for those that are not. New Destiny urges reporting parity, requesting a combined daily census count of all New Yorkers experiencing homelessness, and that the same outcomes are tracked and reported in the Mayor’s Management Report.

Create $10M Innovation Fund
While survivors become housing unstable because of domestic violence, there is no single solution for regaining that stability. Communities across the country have been developing agile approaches to housing survivors of domestic violence and preventing their homelessness. This includes Rapid Rehousing, Flexible Funding, Housing Navigators, and Transition in Place programs. New Destiny encourages the City to use federal funding to develop a $10M Innovation Fund to support emerging best practices that mitigate or avoid the trauma of homelessness for survivors and their children.

For more information on our policy priorities to address homelessness caused by domestic violence in New York City, please refer to our 2021 Policy Platform available on our website.
I also urge you to support the priorities of the Family Homelessness Coalition, a broad-based coalition of shelter and housing providers, advocates, and other nonprofits helping homeless families in New York City.

1. NYC Comptroller, Housing Survivors: How New York City Can Increase Housing Stability for Survivors of Domestic Violence, 2019, page 11.

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

3. NYC Comptroller, Housing Survivors: How New York City Can Increase Housing Stability for Survivors of Domestic Violence, 2019, page 11.

4. Safe Horizon, Visits to New York City’s Domestic Violence Website Surged Amid Coronavirus Pandemic, https://www.safehorizon.org/safe-horizon-in-the-news/nyc-domestic-violence-website-visits-coronavirus-pandemic/

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

6. NYC Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report, January 2021, page 169.

7. New Section 8 rate amount is $2,217 per month, https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nycha/downloads/pdf/Section-8-HCV-VPS-NYC-Gov-Version-2021.pdf

8. NYC Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development, The Housing Plan, https://www1.nyc.gov/site/hpd/about/the-housing-plan.page. Units include both homeless set-aside and supportive housing units.

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