Testimony to the New York City Council Committee on General Welfare

March 9, 2022

Thank you, Chairperson Ayala and members of the City Council General Welfare 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 to learn more.

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 General Welfare Committee for this Budget and Oversight Hearing on the Preliminary Budget for Fiscal Year 2023. New Destiny would like to take this opportunity to underscore the need for our city to invest in housing resources and in the agencies that manage them.

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

New Destiny is concerned about the impact that the Mayor’s preliminary budget, which imposes 3 percent cuts across most city agencies, including HRA, will have on staffing, capacity, and programs.

INCREASED DEMAND FOR HRA SERVICES AND PROGRAMS EXPECTED

HRA Capacity Issues and Impact on Homelessness Prevention: HRA is facing a significant increase in the volume of check processing requests due to the availability of nearly 8,000 federally funded Emergency Housing Vouchers, the expected increased use of CityFHEPS, and an increase in One Shot Deals requests.

If HRA staffing is not increased to meet demand, there will be a huge bottleneck that will delay moves into permanent housing, increase shelter entries, and prolong shelter stays. To prevent a sudden increase in individuals becoming homeless, New York City simply cannot afford to delay processing One Shot Deals now that families can be evicted. New Destiny urges the administration to exempt HRA from the operating budget cuts and fund the agency to meet increased demand accordingly.
Concerns with Budget for CityFHEPS: According to the Independent Budget Office (IBO), now that CityFHEPS vouchers have been raised to competitive rates and are longer-lasting, the cost of the program will exceed the current budgeted amounts.6 IBO estimates that in 2022 the costs for the rental subsidy will be $35 million more than what has been allotted in the preliminary budget. Additionally, in 2023 and the out-years, IBO estimates that total program spending will grow to at least $263 million annually, $114 million more than is currently budgeted for each year.

CityFHEPS must continue to be a priority for the City Council and City Hall. Last year, the Council approved the legislation that made the voucher usable, now it is the time to renege on the promise on what the program can accomplish. We urge the administration to allocate the appropriate funding in the budget. This increased investment in rental subsidies upfront will lead to shelter savings soon thereafter.

BUDGET NEUTRAL OPPORTUNITIES TO INCREASE ACCESS TO HOUSING RESOURCES

Expand Access to Homeless Set-Asides: The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (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 leaves many apartments unnecessarily vacant for extended periods of time.

Open Supportive Housing to Homeless Domestic Violence Survivors: Similarly, domestic violence survivors and their families are 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 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

6   Stefanski, Sarah and Berman, Jacob, “Adams Increases Funds for Homeless Shelters, But More Needed for Shelters & Other Programs” New York City Independent Budget Office, March 2022, page 4

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