Testimony to the New York City Council Committee on Women and Gender Equity

February 22, 2022

Thank you, Chairperson Cabán and members of the City Council Women and Gender Equity Committee for the opportunity to submit written testimony at this hearing.

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 is also a co-convener of the Family Homelessness Coalition (FHC), a broad group of organizations and New Yorkers with lived experience dedicated to tackling homelessness among families in our city.

We commend the Council for focusing this first oversight hearing of the year on examining the barriers to accessing survivor services in New York City. New Destiny would like to take this opportunity to underscore an important hurdle domestic violence victims in the five boroughs face every single day: barriers to housing.

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 where 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 system and 95 percent of them 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 so few housing resources available, 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

There is a critical need, as well as a significant opportunity, for the city to take much needed steps to expand access to housing and address this cycle of trauma for survivors: the city should open the door to homeless set-aside units and city-funded supportive housing to domestic violence victims and their families. These are both administrative modifications that do not require additional funding or legislation and will immediately increase access to affordable housing resources to victims of domestic violence and their families.

REMOVING BARRIERS TO HOUSING FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIMS

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.

New Destiny urges the Council to advocate to the Adams administration to make these changes.

We invite you to read our 2022 NYC Policy Priorities to learn more.

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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