De Blasio balks as CoJo schedules vote on rental vouchers

Council bill would raise value of city certificates to match Section 8

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Mayor Bill de Blasio (Getty, iStock)
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Mayor Bill de Blasio (Getty, iStock)

Odds are that a bill to raise the value of rental vouchers for homeless New Yorkers will pass the City Council Thursday afternoon.

The measure would beef up the city’s Family Homelessness & Eviction Prevention Supplement or FHEPS voucher to match the higher rates guaranteed by the federal Section 8 program.

The legislation is championed by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and has 40 sponsors — six more members than Johnson would need to override a veto by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who raised a red flag on the bill this week. Landlord and tenant groups support it.

In an interview with NY 1’s Errol Louis Monday night, de Blasio acknowledged he had opposed bumping the price of city vouchers in the past because he wants the state to match the raise.

In March, de Blasio sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking him to increase state FHEPS vouchers to federal fair-market rates, so he might do the same for the city’s subsidies.

De Blasio said if the city alone lifted limits, landlords might discriminate against apartment seekers bearing state FHEPS vouchers.

State budget proposals had included $2.3 million for such a raise, plus $200 million for a new voucher program sponsored by Sen. Brian Kavanagh, but both were dropped from the final budget this spring.

The mayor, who has never vetoed a bill — largely because the council rarely passes legislation he opposes — told NY 1 he thinks there’s a good chance the state will get on board with the raise.

“Look, I think we can get this all pulled together, get the state to act, the city to act and get everything aligned in a process to help more homeless folks,” the mayor said.

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Under the legislation, vouchers capped at $1,580 for a family of four would instead pay $2,217 of the monthly rent. One-bedroom vouchers would be worth $1,945.

Increasing voucher amounts would significantly expand their reach to the more than 48,000 people now in city homeless shelters. Homelessness has risen as a public issue during the pandemic, although the shelter population is down from about 60,000 a few years ago.

Johnson argues that city vouchers are worth so little that finding apartments cheap enough for them to cover the rent is nearly impossible.

An analysis of StreetEasy listings in the second half of 2020 found that city FHEPS vouchers would have applied to only 564 available units, versus more than 71,000 for Section 8 recipients.

The legislation has the backing of city landlords, who would benefit from higher rent payments under more generous vouchers.

James Whelan, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, voiced the trade organization’s support and extended a message to Albany:

“We also urge state officials to act in a similar fashion to raise state FHEPs voucher limits, which will ensure a level playing field for voucher holders,” said Whelan.

Rental vouchers are not a panacea: Many landlords and brokers reject voucher holders, even applicants receiving the more valuable Section 8 subsidy, although such discrimination is illegal.