Thank you, Chair Ayala and members of the General Welfare Committee, for the opportunity to testify on a slate of bills concerning the timeliness of public benefits processing at the Human Resources Administration (HRA).
REBNY supports the legislation being considered today. Rental assistance or voucher programs are a proven cost-effective method of ensuring people can stay in their homes and access new ones if so preferred. Enabling additional and more effective use of rental assistance will expand housing choice for New Yorkers across all neighborhoods.
In the FY2023 City budget, REBNY advocated for additional investments for staffing to help facilitate the processing of vouchers through NYCHA and HPD, particularly for the Emergency Housing Vouchers that must be utilized by the end of 2023. While REBNY was pleased to see some resources allocated in the budget, greater investment is still warranted.
In addition, REBNY supports initiatives in the Mayor’s Housing Plan, released in June of this year, to reduce administrative red tape. Such investments should also ensure that the City has adequate resources to address sources of income discrimination.
Unfortunately, there are numerous administrative barriers that have limited the ability to use vouchers to the fullest extent possible, including staff shortages at HRA and NYCHA and other administrative burdens and inefficiencies. Indeed, we frequently hear from REBNY members who are working with prospective tenants who are eligible for and/or utilizing vouchers that the process has proven cumbersome, lengthy, and convoluted. In far too many instances, apartments have been lost for no reason other than processes that should take no more than a few days end up taking months. As a result, REBNY hopes to identify opportunities to work with the Council and this committee to improve these processes and increase funding that is needed to get more New Yorkers into homes.
Below are more specific comments on the individual bills being heard today.
BILL: Intro 703-2022
SUBJECT:The bill would require the Human Resources Administration (HRA) to submit quarterly reports on whether rental assistance payments for programs established by HRA are sent on time to landlords on behalf tenants receiving assistance. The report would include the total number of payments sent monthly disaggregated by the type of program, the number of payments that were late and why, and a description of any actions HRA is taking to ensure that payments are sent on time.
SPONSORS: Councilmembers Abreu, Aviles, Rester, Hudson, Ung and Ayala.
REBNY supports Intro 703. As mentioned above, rental assistance or voucher programs are a proven cost-effective method of ensuring people can stay in their homes or find new homes.
Unfortunately, the ability to utilize vouchers has become increasingly difficult for all parties involved. This is most often caused by a lack of resources and overly bureaucratic processes within City government. These challenges include excessive and redundant paperwork and the inability to retain the same caseworker at HRA or NYCHA for a tenant throughout the process. These issues can lead to units being rented to other prospective tenants as it is untenable for owners to hold units vacant for months in a competitive rental market.
In addition, for new rentals in which vouchers are sought for payment, agency rules known as ‘rent reasonableness’ have exacerbated complicated processes. Rent reasonableness was originally established to ensure that the worth of vouchers, particularly CityFHEPS, reasonably reflect the market value. Unfortunately, the process to establish such value often does not reflect market conditions. Furthermore, in numerous instances, REBNY members have been told that asking rent meets the rent reasonableness standard established only to be asked to lower the asking rent at a later point in the process. This has created confusion and an unwillingness to trust the process.
REBNY supports Intro 703 as greater public transparency that will help shed light on these challenges so that they can be comprehensively addressed.
BILL: Intro 704-2022.
SUBJECT: The bill would require the Human Resources Administration to provide landlords the option to accept rental assistance payments via an electronic transfer into a bank account
SPONSORS: Councilmembers Abreu, Aviles, Restler, Hudson, Ung, Joseph and Ayala.
REBNY supports Intro 704-2022 and its goal of establishing more efficient means to accept rental assistance payments. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the City had a backlog of rental assistance payments due to property owners, further burdening property owners at a most challenging time. For small property owners in particular, delay in payment can be particularly disruptive and could ultimately impact their ability to maintain their property and support their tenants. Enabling more efficient means of accepting rental assistance payments could have helped alleviate the backlog experienced during the midst of the pandemic and will likely be a valuable option moving forward if this legislation is enacted.
Thank you for your consideration of these points.