Council, landlords back voucher expansion, but mayor objects
Vote sets stage for Adams veto
It’s a case of strange bedfellows: Landlord groups, tenant advocates and the City Council are on the same side in a fight with Mayor Eric Adams over rental vouchers.
The Council on Thursday approved a series of measures aimed at expanding voucher eligibility, despite opposition from the Adams administration. The vote may set the stage for the first mayoral veto in years.
Among the measures is a bill that repeals a rule requiring individuals and families to spend at least 90 days in homeless shelters before they can apply for the City Fighting Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement, or CityFHEPS.
Another would increase income eligibility for vouchers. Instead of 200 percent of the federal poverty level, the upper limit would be 50 percent of area median income — bumping the threshold to $66,700 from $55,500 up for a family of four, based on 2022 figures.
The Adams administration has criticized the measures, saying they would cost $17 billion just in the first five years and make it harder for the existing 20,000 voucher holders to find housing, because of the new competition.
Department of Social Services Commissioner Molly Park said in a statement that the measures were “well intentioned” but “would do significant harm to the most vulnerable unhoused New Yorkers.”
“They would undermine a system designed to direct resources to those with the greatest need, and instead provide rental assistance to tens or even hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who are not homeless or at risk of becoming homeless,” Park said in a statement.
The administration said it offered to work with the Council on a measure that would lift the 90-day rule for families only, as well as another proposal to expand vouchers.
A recent report by the Citizens Budget Commission raised concerns about rent assistance funding, pointing to a $450 million shortfall. The city’s executive budget projects spending $636 million in fiscal year 2023 on rental assistance programs, but only allocates $192 million in fiscal year 2024.
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams criticized the administration on Thursday for focusing on “solely expanding emergency shelters.”
“The choice is clear from the perspective of what helps New Yorkers in our communities, and what is cost-effective,” she said at a press conference ahead of Thursday’s vote.
The speaker said expanding the path to housing would save money, given the high cost of emergency shelter, and is also better for the health and well-being of those tenants.
She also challenged the mayor’s $17 billion figure, saying it incorrectly included the total cost of housing even though vouchers only cover a portion of rent (tenants must pay 30 percent of their income). She pointed to a report estimating that housing a family of two in the shelter system costs $8,773 a month, while a CityFHEPs voucher costs $2,387 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.
The administration counters that many vouchers would go to tenants who would not otherwise end up in a shelter.
Because vouchers supplement rent, landlords have been generally supportive of the bill package. The Real Estate Board of New York testified in favor of the measures eliminating the 90-day rule and raising the income threshold.
On Thursday, Michael Tobman, membership director of the Rent Stabilization Association, said his organization has “long supported government vouchers that are efficiently and expeditiously delivered.”
Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, called the bills a step in the right direction and praised the Council for “removing many of the bureaucratic hurdles that prevent renters in trouble from finding permanent housing.”
“But let’s be honest about the impact they will have on the current affordable housing crisis in the city,” he said in a statement. “These bills will help dozens of renters, at the expense of other renters. Vouchers only work if there is an adequate supply of housing.”
The clash over the voucher bill comes one day after the city’s housing chief, Jessica Katz, said she plans to step down by July. Her departure comes as the mayor seeks to limit the city’s right-to-shelter policy.
Katz did not specify her reasons for leaving, but these issues apparently put her at odds with the mayor. In a statement Wednesday, Christine Quinn, president and CEO of Win and a former City Council speaker, made it a point to thank Katz for supporting a repeal of the 90-day rule.
It is not yet clear if the mayor will veto the measures. The speaker would not say on Thursday whether she is confident that the Council would override a veto. But when asked about her relationship with the mayor, given their disagreements over right-to-shelter and vouchers, she chose her words carefully.
“Our working relationship is interesting, and I’ll leave it there,” she said.
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