Healing the Homelessness Crisis
Our City was in the midst of a homelessness crisis well before the pandemic changed our lives. Every night, anywhere from 50,000 - 60,000 people sleep in a shelter, the majority of whom (~60%) are families with children. Many people --particularly single adults and LGBTQ+ youth -- remain on our City’s streets, seeking refuge where they can find it, which can often be unsafe and traumatic for people, especially those with mental health needs. The housing and economic fragility caused by the pandemic, a temporary pause in 24-hour train service and the increasing risk that shelters may present, have resulted in a far more visible crisis of street homelessness. This is unacceptable. A Yang administration will tackle homelessness head on.
The root causes of family homelessness and single adult homelessness are unique - families experiencing homelessness are typically in shelter because of a lack of affordable housing and/or domestic violence. On the other hand, single adult homelessness is driven by the loss of psychiatric beds and the realities facing people who are returning home from prison or City jails. This population is increasingly in need of services that address mental illness, substance use, and rehabilitation from the criminal justice system. Supportive housing really is the proven solution for single adult homelessness, and rapidly increasing the supply is absolutely crucial to success in reducing the shelter census.
Our City has utterly failed far too many New Yorkers who are in desperate need of long-term, permanently affordable housing, real eviction protection, options if they are fleeing violence in their homes, and focused mental health services. Our City has also failed to protect small and medium sized landlords who have many tenants who could not afford to pay their rent through the pandemic.
Andrew Yang’s homelessness policy is clear and simple:
- Housing is a human right. Everyone in New York City deserves a safe and affordable place to live. While New Yorkers have a right to shelter, we must create a clear and explicit pathway to permanent housing.
- Ensure housing stability: A Yang administration will target financial assistance to tenants in need, expand the right to counsel in housing court with a goal of dramatically reducing evictions, prevent displacement, and increasing housing stability for millions of New Yorkers.
- Create a pathway to permanent, affordable housing for people living in shelter: In a City as wealthy as New York, it is unacceptable that between 50,000 - 60,000 New Yorkers live in the shelter system with no clear pathway to permanent, affordable housing. Our city spends tens of thousands of dollars to house people in shelter per year, rather than fully investing in the permanent, affordable housing that New Yorkers truly need. A Yang administration will ensure that there is a clear pathway to permanent affordable housing for New Yorkers who are currently living in shelter, with the access to the services that residents need within reach and will make the expansion of our affordable housing stock a priority.
- Focus on eviction protection and keeping people in their homes.
- Reduce the length of stay in the shelter system by one-third in a year. Length of stay in shelters has increased by 76 percent since 2010 to an average of 431 days. Many individuals remain in shelter who could live independently if affordable housing existed.
- Reduce the overall population and rate of return to shelter by 30% within two years.
- Double the number of drop-in sites so that New Yorkers have more immediate access to get food, clothing, showers and social services instead of living on the street and subways.
Simplify the Process of Building and Finding Housing
- Manage oversight and coordination better between the eleven agencies that touch housing and our hundreds of homeless service providers: A Yang administration will achieve greater coordination through requiring homelessness agencies, such as DHS to report to the same Deputy Mayor as housing agencies, such as HPD to ensure that these vital agencies are working in coordination toward mutual goals. Currently, no agency has the simple mandate to make sure that individuals stay housed. Through steady management, adhering to data-driven metrics, coordinated partnerships and accountability standards, Andrew Yang will make this goal the explicit mission of DHS. We must also bring a suite of city services to New Yorkers; wherever they are. Therefore all of our field offices will have services available to connect New Yorkers to jobs, housing vouchers, childcare and more. For example, if a person is visiting his or her ACS caseworker, they should also be able to gain assistance on applying for housing vouchers. These “one-stop-shops” will reduce bureaucracy and create effective experiences when navigating city services. Likewise, a Yang administration would establish a Clients Advisory Board under DHS made up of at least 40 shelter residents that span family shelters, single adults. This CAB would be required to meet with the DHS executive staff on a monthly basis.
Protecting Tenants and Keeping Families in Their Homes
- Turn Covid Rent Relief Into a Renter’s Stimulus: The Yang Administration supports the Tenant Safe Harbor Act (“TSHA”) and Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020 (“EEFPA”) passed by the New York State Legislature and signed by Governor Cuomo, which prohibited evictions for rent that was unpaid during the COVID-19 Covered Period (lasting from March 7, 2020 until the end of the Covid-19 crisis). But the City needs to go further to help the estimated 400,000 tenants facing Covid-19 related hardships.
- New York City landlords will see property taxes decrease due to a decline in values caused by COVID-19, and these benefits should be shared by tenants. By providing incentives to share their savings with needy renters and by tying additional property tax relief to qualifying landlords who forgive rent that was unpaid during the COVID-19 covered period, the City can avoid a torrent of debt collections by landlords against cash strapped tenants and turn the TSHA and EEFPA into a stimulus for renters by keeping more money in tenant’s pockets. Any property tax relief would be spread out over several years to prevent a hit to the City’s coffers all at once, and would be targeted to small and medium sized landlords.
- In addition, the Yang administration supports a reasonable extension of the current eviction moratorium on all evictions for any reason (currently set to expire on May 1, 2021) to prevent the COVID-19 Crisis from creating an eviction crisis.
- Expand Right to Counsel Citywide: Access to a housing attorney is one of the surest ways that tenants who are taken to court by their landlords can remain in their homes. As New York City has piloted Right to Counsel and grown the Office of Civil Justice, 84% of tenants who had access to an attorney in housing court have been able to remain in their homes, and the eviction rate has declined by over 30 percent since the program’s implementation began. A Yang administration will ensure that tenants in all five boroughs have access to a lawyer in housing court, expand the program so that more New Yorkers who make up to 400% of the Federal Poverty Line can access an attorney and ensure undocumented New Yorkers are eligible for this right.
- Develop Strong Eviction Diversion Programs: A Yang Administration will prevent eviction by encouraging efficient alternatives to housing court. All landlords pursuing rent non-payment cases against tenants will be given the option of entering into an eviction diversion process where the City or City funded non-profit fit will match a tenant’s repayment of rent owed if a landlord agrees to a reasonable repayment plan and forgoes eviction during the repayment period. Only tenants who fail to meet their payment obligation would face eviction. After a successful pilot, the Yang Administration will advocate for changes to State law to require eviction diversion before a landlord can evict for unpaid rent. The goal of the Eviction Diversion Program is to prevent evictions through a more collaborative process where tenants and landlord's engage to keep the tenant in their home with ongoing financial assistance. While existing “one shot deal” programs provide financial assistance, tenants often obtain limited assistance very far into the eviction process, a disservice to both the tenant and landlord that maintains the cycle of non-payment and eviction.
- Ramp up rent stabilization enforcement. There are about 1 million rent stabilized apartments in NYC covering roughly 2.5 million tenants. Yet recent investigations have found rampant abuses of 421a tax breaks and widespread illegal rent overcharges of rent stabilized apartments. Tenants pay more in rent than they should, and this contributes to a cycle of evictions and abuse. New York City forgoes over $1.5 billion in tax revenue each year because of 421a - it is an expensive program and therefore should be properly enforced. The city and state are simply not enforcing rent stabilization laws, which puts good landlords at a competitive disadvantage. A Yang administration will create a new joint entity between HPD and the New York City Department of Finance (DOF) with the sole task of investigating compliance with state rent stabilization laws and revoking 421a tax exemptions from the greatest offenders. Tenant advocates like Housing Rights Initiative conduct these investigations when the city fails to. There should be no excuse for the city to not be doing this work.
Reduce Street Homelessness in Half
- Grow the number of safe haven beds: The City’s own HOPE count tells us that about 4,000 people are experiencing street homelessness. This is of course a point-in-time count, and not fully reflective of people who cycle in and out of street homelessness. Safe havens are a low-threshold option for people who need a place to stay, but are not willing to enter a traditional shelter. A Yang administration will grow the number of safe havens across the five boroughs from 1,200 to 2,000 to better accommodate the needs of people who are ready for a low-threshold option for a safe place to stay.
- Expand the number of psychiatric beds in New York City hospitals: After decades of deinstitutionalization and community-based care, New York City has fewer hospital beds that are able to accommodate people with mental health needs than ever before. Currently there are 3,767 psychiatric beds in New York City. At the same time, the City is facing an escalating mental health crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic. Although there have been important reforms to healthcare thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion in New York State, and additional coverage for people who fall through the cracks, psychiatric and behavioral health services appear to be an afterthought. Through the pandemic, hospitals were mandated to have 30% of their beds available in case of another surge, and mental health advocates fear that they will not return. It is also well-known that our City’s largest provider of mental health and psychiatric services is our City’s jail system, second only to our shelter system. Clearly we are not meeting the needs of people in need of long-term, inpatient medical care, and many of those folks are experiencing homelessness. New York City accounts for 72% of the decline in inpatient psychiatric beds between 2000–2018.. While we continue to deliver excellent outpatient psychiatric services to New Yorkers, a Yang Administration will work with H+H to expand the number of psychiatric beds by 20%.
- Grow capacity for supportive housing: Only one out of five shelter residents who have approved applications for supportive housing are placed because we lack the supply. Many New Yorkers are in need of comprehensive services which will allow them to transition out of shelter, but the city cannot produce supportive housing fast enough. Andrew Yang will accelerate the pace of New York City’s commitment to build 15,000 supportive housing units in 5 years, focusing on meeting the needs of people who are in need of comprehensive case management and services. A Yang administration will also end the practice of providers selecting who can or cannot live in their buildings, and ensure that all potential residents are “screened in,” rather than screened out.
Create Immediate Pathways to Housing for People in Shelter
- Launch New Housing New York 25 (“NHNY25”), creating at least 25,000 new deeply affordable units, inclusive of supportive housing, using existing hotels that will not reopen: Hotels can be converted into housing both economically and quickly. No other vehicle can achieve results fast enough to demonstrate change early within a next administration. A Yang Administration will provide regulatory relief and forgivable grants to eligible hotel properties entering into agreements with New York City for long term residential uses at affordable rents. This new effort, New Housing New York, will allow for the conversion of some buildings, mainly hotels, and obsolete office buildings, throughout the City into tens of thousands of new units of housing. By providing larger forgivable grants to owners or developers who agree to convert buildings into supportive housing and deeply affordable housing targeted toward people in the greatest need, this housing can take advantage of a once in a generation opportunity to create affordable housing for the New Yorkers who need it most. A Yang administration will create a minimum of 5,000 new units of housing in the first 18 months of the Administration, scaling up to 25,000 by 2025.
- Raise the allowance of city vouchers. An important tool to reduce the shelter population in NYC is rental assistance programs. Unfortunately, the city’s payment structure is substantially less than what landlords will accept. The city’s rental assistance program, City Family Homeless and Eviction Prevention Supplement (“CityFHEPS”) will only pay approximately $1,600 a month for a family of four while Federal Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers pays $2,000 a month. This difference results in landlords refusing to accept CityFHEPS vouchers while they wait for a section 8 Voucher. It is unacceptable that due to a gap of a few hundred dollars a month, families are remaining in shelters which cost $6,000 a month. Andrew Yang will immediately move to make the city’s rental assistance program equivalent to the section 8 standards.
- Expand CityFHEPS to cover undocumented New Yorkers: Undocumented New Yorkers are not eligible for FHEPS, and therefore linger in the shelter system with no pathway to affordable housing. Andrew Yang will work to ensure that immigration status is not an impediment to receiving city subsidies and will facilitate relationships of trust with immigrant New Yorkers and city agencies so that they do not have to be afraid when applying for city help.
- End source of income discrimination: New York City has among the most robust municipal human rights laws in the country. However, the New York City Commission on Human Rights is not able to keep up with the level of discrimination that renters with housing vouchers face when trying to find an apartment. A Yang administration will bolster the efforts of the New York City Commission on Human Rights to go after landlords who refuse to accept vouchers.
- Urge the State to Pass Home Stability Support: To help very low-income New Yorkers on the brink of homelessness or who are receiving certain government benefits, the Yang administration will urge the State Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, the Home Stability Support Bill, which provides a rent supplement of 85% of the difference between the fair market value of a two bedroom apartment ($1,951) in NYC and the current “shelter supplement” of $400 per month for a family ($250 for an individual) (a total annual benefit of $15,820 per year for a family in New York City). The supplement is less expensive than the annual cost of shelter beds and keeps vulnerable tenants from becoming homeless. New York state must pass this legislation.
- Focus support for survivors of domestic violence. Domestic violence is one of the main drivers of women and children ending up in shelters. However, only 23% of the domestic violence victims are in specialized DV shelters. The overwhelming majority are in the regular shelter system and are not receiving appropriate services. Andrew Yang will expand the number of domestic violence shelters in the city to meet the needs of survivors and will focus attention on families with DV experience moving out of shelter and into permanent apartments and into NYCHA.
Improve Shelter Conditions
- Require DHS caseworkers and service providers have the training they need to support people with mental and emotional needs. All employees at DHS’ Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH) intake centers, must have trauma-informed training. Likewise, although many service providers train their staff, the funding for such programs come out of their indirect costs. A Yang administration will run programs that bring professional development and staff training to providers so that these costs do not need to come out of nonprofits’ bottom lines. Currently, there is legislation in the City Council that would require DHS to provide customer service training to improve the standard of care given to vulnerable individuals and families who enter into our shelter system. Andrew Yang will support this legislative effort.
- Expand municipal broadband, starting with City shelters. It has been estimated that there are some 100,000 homeless children in the city that are not receiving appropriate educational instruction. Andrew Yang will make sure that every homeless child has a computer and internet connection, read our plan for broadband access.