The Real Estate Board of New York to The Committee on General Welfare of the New York City Council Regarding Intro. No. 1794 and Intro. No. 2081

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The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) is the City’s leading real estate trade association representing commercial, residential, and institutional property owners, builders, managers, investors, brokers, salespeople, and other organizations and individuals active in New York City real estate. REBNY thanks the New York City Council Committee on General Welfare for the opportunity to submit testimony in support on two of the bills being heard today -  Intro. No. 1794 regarding trauma-informed training for Department of Homeless Services (DHS) employees and Intro. No. 2081 regarding one-shot deals.

 

BILL: Int 1794-2019

SUBJECT: This bill would require the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to conduct trainings on techniques to improve professionalism, increase cultural sensitivity, de-escalate conflict and use trauma-informed theory for all DHS employees and contractors providing services to the public. DHS would be required to report annually on the number of individuals who have received such training.

SPONSORS: Council Members Ampry-Samuel, Louis, Kallos and Levin

It is laudable to seek changes to the bureaucracy of public assistance to make it a system that works for New Yorkers in need, instead of seeking to punish poverty. Root causes for entering the shelter system include many traumatic inducing events, and these should not be compounded by interactions with DHS and the shelter system itself.

REBNY supports the changes recommended by advocates to strengthen the bill, inclusive of making the required training bi-annually, requiring DHS to offer staff one additional professional development opportunity in evidence-based practices, and training for supervisors. As part of this conversation and future budget hearings, consideration for resources should be given to both support these efforts at DHS and non-profit contractors.  

 

BILL: Int 2081-2020

SUBJECT: This bill would require the Commissioner of Social Services to improve the one-shot deal program. It would obligate the Commissioner to post information on one-shot deal rental arrears grants on the Human Resources Administration website and to update one-shot deal applications. It would also require the Commissioner to improve the administration of one-shot deals in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and conduct outreach on the program. The bill would also require the Commissioner to report monthly on the administration and utilization of one-shot deals.

SPONSORS: Council Members Moya, Kallos, Yeger, Chin and Cornegy

Intro No. 2081 also seeks to cut the red tape to access assistance under extenuating circumstances. REBNY supports data-driven policy initiatives and governmental transparency, and REBNY commends the Council for including the requirement to report on the distribution of one-shot deals. It was disheartening to hear during the New York State Assembly and Senate hearing on emergency rental assistance that these rental arrears grants were being denied, at earlier hearings that the city could not share the exact cost of the program, neighborhoods where these grants were most needed, and whether that was true on an ongoing basis. Gathering and reporting on the program is crucial to identifying patterns, whether good or bad, that should be amplified for greater success or addressed for improved program administration.

Program design matters. As part of Project Parachute, a philanthropic initiative by REBNY, New York Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH), and other institutions to help the most vulnerable New York City renters remain in their homes during and in the aftermath of the Coronavirus crisis, Enterprise Community Partners administers a fund for tenants known as FASTEN (Funds and Services for Tenants Experiencing Need). The program was designed by the city’s seven Homebase providers and funds were allocated on borough need based on unemployment, households below the poverty line, and covid cases and mortality. Currently, FASTEN has provided support to over 2300 individuals, and over $3.6 million in rental arrears has been requested. Importantly, the program is reaching those who were not otherwise eligible for government assistance - 80% of the served households are undocumented households and over 50% are single adults. Importantly, as most stimulus dollars and existing programs identify prior housing instability as a criterion for relief, over 80% of the households served under FASTEN would be deemed ineligible for traditional voucher assistance as they have no documented shelter history.

As part of Project Parachute, REBNY has also joined with diverse stakeholders including representatives from Enterprise Community Partners, the Legal Aid Society, Homeless Services United (HSU), Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA), and NYSAFAH to develop upstream solutions to prevent evictions as part of the Eviction Prevention Roundtable. The Roundtable created a set of recommendations to streamline and expand eligibility for existing assistance programs, align them more closely with the cost of housing, and address growing economic need. These include recommendations to the existing one shot program.

Intro. No. 2081 takes important steps to increase accessibility and transparency, and achieves laudable goals that REBNY strongly supports. In addition to these important changes, REBNY and the Roundtable also recommend that:

•       The New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA’s) decision to end the de facto eviction filing requirement for One Shot Deals is fully implemented by providing training and awareness to HRA workers on situations that are eligible for One Shots;

•       Clarify the eligibility criteria for One Shot Deals and allow landlords to initiate the process;

•       Waive the requirement to repay One Shot Deals and provide flexibility in its assessment of future ability to pay, at least for the duration of the pandemic; and

•       Adopt explicit priorities for award of One Shot Deals.

These recommendations, in combination with the actions being heard today will allow the One Shot Deal program to assist as many New Yorker who are in need as possible.