By Naeisha Rose
A rental subsidy bill championed by state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) advanced in both houses of the state Legislature last week.
The bill will appropriate $15 million to help keep struggling families and individuals out of the shelter system and help those who are already in temporary housing get closer to finding a more stable living situation.
“After nearly two years of working on creative and pragmatic ways to stem the tide of homelessness in New York state, I am proud to say that I believe this is the first step towards truly and effectively helping our homeless population,” said Hevesi, who is the chairman of the Committee on Social Services.
Shelly Nortz, the executive director of the non-profit Coalition for the Homeless, also helped create the plan.
Coalition for the Homeless provides both facts and solutions for New York City’s homelessness crisis on its website.
As of January, there were 63,101 homeless people throughout the city, including 23,309 children in the shelter system, according to the coalition.
Before the bill can move forward to be a part of the 2018 to 2019 New York State Budget it must undergo a three-way budget negotiations with the Senate, the Assembly and Governor Andrew Cuomo, according to Hevesi spokesman Doug Forand.
Forand said if there is an agreement the governor would have to resubmit a budget bill and then members of both houses have to amend it.
If all goes well a pilot program would be in the city and possibly Monroe, a county in upstate New York, according to Forand. After a few years a study will depict how well a fair market rent level subsidy works to help homeless folks or those facing eviction obtain and retain stable housing, said Forand.
The program would have state supervision, local administration, and local social services (HRA/DHS in the city and DSS in Monroe County) would decide how to implement the initiative either directly, through contractors or both, said the spokesman.
Earlier this month, Department of Social Services Commissioner Steve Banks met with Borough President Melinda Katz at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens to discuss the homeless situation in Queens.
Over 10,500 people in Queens were housed in shelters, including 8,731 who are from the borough, Banks said.
He blames the increase in homelessness on the Great Recession. Banks said that the rate of homelessness increased across the city by 38 percent from 2011 to 2014, while rent went up by 18.4 percent from 2005 to 2015 as wages incrementally increased byONLY 4.8 percent in the same 10-year period.
“If you have rent exceeding incomes, you’ll have homelessness,” he said.
In Queens there are 69 homeless shelters. There are 28 traditional permanent shelters, while 41 are hotels that are fully rented or semi-rented out by the city, which house nearly 5,000 people, according to Banks.
Banks estimated that the rental assistance program would keep 70,000 families or individuals in their homes.
“This new subsidy will give recipients a life-changing opportunity towards self-sufficiency and stability,” said Hevesi.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose