It is our hope that there will be a renewed commitment moving forward to public-private partnerships to solve the challenges our city faces. Throughout the pandemic, REBNY and its members have taken several actions to help keep New Yorkers housed and ensure greater access to housing for New Yorkers in need. In the spring of 2020 and following a voluntary 90-day eviction pledge, REBNY members and others in the real estate community stepped forward to build new partnerships with the shared commitment to help vulnerable tenants during and after the pandemic, creating Project Parachute. Project Parachute is a coalition of owners, non-profit organizations and service providers led by Enterprise Community Partners, which aims to work collaboratively to keep vulnerable New Yorkers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis in their homes. Under the tenant-facing program FASTEN, which launched in the Fall of 2020 and is administered by the City’s Homebase providers, Project Parachute has served nearly 3,000 individuals, 87% of whom are undocumented or in mixed status households, and over 50% of whom are single adult households.
REBNY members take seriously the Project Parachute pledge to find collaborative ways to reduce evictions and keep tenants stably housed. While we may not agree with our partners on every policy recommendation, focusing on the ones we do can bring real change and benefit to those New Yorkers who need it most. REBNY was proud to support the efforts of WIN and so many other tireless advocates in the passage of Local Law 71 of 2021, which raised the value of the CityFHEPS vouchers to make this form of rental assistance more competitive in our housing market. REBNY also submitted comments urging the New York City Human Resources Administration to ensure income eligibility is consistent with other programs and advocate for additional policy changes that will ensure the program is as helpful as possible to the very same hardworking New Yorkers FHEPS is intended to help.
What is clear is that any solutions to reducing the overall shelter population have to include eviction prevention methods and provide diverse housing options targeted to individual needs post-shelter. The City and the Council have taken steps towards meeting this goal, with the introduction and execution of several policies that emphasize a “Housing First” approach towards preventing and reducing homelessness. However, the City must continue to dedicate funds for the construction or conversion of supportive housing units. While the emphasis on housing first is an important one, the City must also provide continued support to those individuals placed into market rate housing due to a lack of available appropriate units. Funding must be allocated for accompanying on-site supportive services, job training and a robust assistance fund to cover hard costs for property owners. The combination of housing assistance, direct supplementary assistance to cover basic needs for homeless individuals, and operational assistance to the providers housing these New Yorkers is equally critical to the provision of units to break the cycle of homelessness.
Providing housing support vouchers to people on the verge of homelessness is a prudent use of taxpayer money. Research from both the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the National Bureau of Economic Research document show that it is more cost-effective for government intervention to keep or place someone in their home than it is to provide temporary shelter. Stabilizing New Yorkers prior to experiencing housing instability, and entering the shelter system, will always be less expensive than paying for emergency hotel rooms and dealing with the long-term health and social impacts of homelessness. Most importantly, though, providing housing is simply the right thing to do.
For vouchers to be most effective, there must also be available housing units. Increasing housing supply is critical considering the deficit of housing units produced over the last decade and the city’s homelessness rate. We need more homes in every borough that are accessible to all New Yorkers, including more supportive homes and more homes affordable to low-income New Yorkers. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness Poverty, “there is not enough affordable and available housing for America’s millions of low-income renters…. The lack of affordable housing causes housing instability for low income renters and leads to increased risk of eviction.”
REBNY and its members are ready and willing to work with the Council and appropriate City agencies to design a system that balances the needs of homeless households, obligations of the property owner, and that of other tenants.