Hochul bumps up voucher values to cheers of landlords, housing advocates

Signs law raising renting power of homeless New Yorkers

Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, Gov. Kathy Hochul, Senator Brian Kavanagh (Getty)
Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, Gov. Kathy Hochul, Senator Brian Kavanagh (Getty)

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation that will raise the value of state rental vouchers for homeless New Yorkers, expanding their purchasing power in a market where pricing long ago outpaced the subsidy.

The law lifts the dollar values of state vouchers to 100 percent of the federal fair market level from 85 percent. The move earned her the praise of real estate and housing groups.

State vouchers are worth far less than the median rent for New York City, limiting voucher-holders to “a sliver of the market,” the bill said.

“There is not a single neighborhood in New York City where the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is affordable to a family with an existing voucher,” said Manhattan Assembly member Linda Rosenthal, who sponsored the legislation.

Rosenthal estimated the law would provide a lifeline to about 2,300 families who will now be eligible for the expanded voucher program. The measure does not address another problem with vouchers, though: Many landlords reject them, although doing so is illegal.

“Now we have to focus on reforming the stifling government bureaucracy that processes vouchers,” said Jay Martin, executive director of the landlord group Community Housing Improvement Program, in a statement. “The current system is frustrating for both property owners and prospective renters, and often ends up in disappointment for all sides.”

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The legislation was enacted with the state’s eviction moratorium set to expire in just over a month, which could expose hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers with rent arrears to eviction if they have not applied for emergency rental assistance.

Hochul’s decision last month to close the relief program, which had earmarked nearly all its funds, drew the ire of stakeholders on both sides of the landlord-tenant divide.

The Real Estate Board of New York, which criticized the portal closure, voiced its support for the housing voucher increase, noting that the legislation will enable landlords to rent to a wider pool of renters.

Heading into next year’s governor’s race, Hochul, a moderate, has the tricky job of retaining the support of the deep-pocketed real estate industry without alienating renters, who comprise nearly half of her constituency. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, one of Hochul’s opponents in the June Democratic primary, has long championed progressive housing policies, including universal rent control. The voucher bill, although Hochul had nothing to do with passing it, adds an arrow to her quiver for the campaign.

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Hochul’s signing of the voucher bill matches a move by Mayor Bill de Blasio in August that raised the value of city vouchers to federal levels. The mayor had been reticent to do that, wary that then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo would not follow through on a state increase.

“There was a lot of opposition within the prior administration to this [legislation],” said the bill’s Senate sponsor, Manhattan Democrat Brian Kavanagh, referring to Cuomo.

At a press briefing, Hochul said she looked forward to collaborating with incoming Mayor Eric Adams, a dig at the power struggles that defined city-state governance under de Blasio and Cuomo.

“This is a radical concept my friends, radical idea,” Hochul said, drawing laughs from the crowd. “The state of New York — hold on to your seats — and the city of New York will work together.”

Said Rosenthal, “Isn’t it wonderful to have a governor who gets it?”

Rosenthal and Kavanagh floated hopes that Hochul’s signing of the voucher bill could lead to more such legislation.

“We do have another housing bill that the governor is considering,” said Rosenthal, who did not specify which bill.

A hot-button issue heading into the 2022 legislative session is good cause eviction. Kavanagh and Rosenthal joined the #HouseNY campaign launched last month, calling on Albany to enact good cause statewide. The legislation would prohibit an eviction if an owner hiked rent by more than 3 percent or 150 percent of the inflation rate, whichever is higher.

Real estate has criticized the measure as universal rent control.

The #HouseNY campaign also calls on state lawmakers to drop the 421a tax break, set to expire in June, and enact the Housing Access Voucher Program, which would create additional vouchers for families experiencing homelessness.

“This is a big step forward,” said Kavanagh of the new legislation. “We are going to be looking, in the legislature, toward even bigger steps.”