By Victoria Merlino
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that New York City will consolidate the various and confusing ways homeless residents can apply for housing assistance to get back on their feet.
The new City Fighting Homelessness & Eviction Prevention Supplement, known as CityFHEPS, voucher program seeks to replace the seven housing voucher programs that the city currently operates and condesne the requirements for each program into one simplified set.
De Blasio said the streamlined program will help secure permanent housing for New Yorkers in need and attract more landlords willing to accept housing vouchers. Critics, including homeless residents looking for apartments, say the current suite of programs to are too confusing to navigate and that few property owners accept the vouchers.
“Streamlining rental assistance will help New Yorkers experiencing homelessness obtain and remain in homes they deserve rather than on the streets or in shelter,” de Blasio said in a statement. “It’s one more tool we’re using to help turn the tide on this decades-long challenge.”
The revised requirements will enable more people to figure out if they are eligible for assistance and apply for vouchers. Voucher recipients pay 30 percent of their rent and the city pays the difference. The vouchers will no longer expire after five years, providing recipients more time to search for a job that can pay their full rent.
In 2011, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg abruptly ended a rental assistance program known as Advantage. The termination of the program forced recipients to suddenly bear their full rent burden and resulted in many families returning to homelessness. The city’s decision to cut off the program also made landlords skeptical of futures housing assistance commitments, homeless advocates say.
On Wednesday 59,060 people, including 21,854 children, stayed in a city shelter according to the most recent daily census issued by DHS. The shelter population has hovered around 60,000 for the past three years.
De Blasio’s announcement is the latest in a long line of attempts to tackle the homelessness crisis. Between 1994 and 2014, homeless increased in New York City by 115 percent, and it grew another 40 percent between 2011 and 2014 when the city and the state shuttered the Advantage program.
When he took office, De Blasio implemented a new rental assistance program, and in 2017 he released “Turning the Tide on Homelessness in New York City,” an action plan to combat the issue further.
De Blasio has faced many setbacks in this mission though, the most recent being the slowness to get more homeless shelters up and running. He missed his 2017 goal of having 20 new shelters open in the city by more than half, and has been criticized by other elected officials for opening new shelters in communities that already have shelters. De Blasio has also encountered multiple communities that are hesitate to allow shelters to erect on their streets.
Advocates for the rights of homeless people said the newly consolidated voucher system presents a glimmer of hope for reducing homelessness.
“Streamlining the existing rental assistance vouchers into one program will make it easier for New Yorkers to access the programs and services they desperately need,” said Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi who represents Forest Hills and chairs the Assembly’s Social Services Committee. “I look forward to working together as we continue to implement new strategies to prevent and alleviate homelessness.”