Gotham Gazette

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New York Needs the Housing Access Voucher Program

Celebrating housing policy (photo: Darren McGee/Governor's Office)

Of the almost 600,000 people experiencing homelessness in the United States on any given night in 2022, more than half of them were in one of four states -- New York, California, Florida, and Washington -- with New York alone accounting for 13% of the total homeless population, over 90,000 people. Some 30,000 of this population are families with children in New York City. And rising homelessness isn’t just a problem in the Big Apple but across our state: homelessness has nearly tripled in Syracuse since 2022, for example.

Taken together, these figures show that over the past year, what was abundantly clear already has become even plainer: New York is in the midst of a historic homelessness crisis, with tragic consequences for huge numbers of New Yorkers, and a disproportionate impact on communities of color. 

Aware of New York’s crushing affordability issues, Governor Hochul released the New York Housing Compact earlier this year, which seeks to halt exclusionary housing practices and spur new housing development over the medium- and long-term. But New Yorkers experiencing homelessness tonight surely feel little consolation in imagining homes that may be available several years or even a decade from now.

This crisis demands both long-term and immediate actions, and the Governor and Legislature must move policies forward that provide rapid relief for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness or on the brink of eviction now. One way our state leaders can and must provide this support is by funding the Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP) in the upcoming state budget.

HAVP is a rental assistance supplement that would allow New Yorkers experiencing or at risk of homelessness to either secure housing or pay their rent. In this regard, HAVP not only helps those currently homeless to find and afford housing, but it helps those on the brink of eviction from becoming homeless and entering the shelter system. Given that re-admission to homeless shelters too often becomes a permanent cycle, helping New Yorkers avoid shelters in the first place is critical to reducing the overwhelming demand on the system.

The far-reaching benefits of rental assistance programs like HAVP are well-documented. As the NYU Furman Center explains, the “existing literature points to a robust array of [likely] positive outcomes.” A separate federal study from Housing and Urban Development finds that among families receiving housing vouchers, fewer children were removed from homes and separated from their families, there were fewer school and childcare absences, and less evidence of alcohol or drug problems, 20 months later.

The research also suggests that vouchers helped facilitate exits from violent relationships, decreasing the prevalence of domestic violence and psychological distress. And additional federal research reaffirms the connection between housing stability and broad positive outcomes, including educational, employment, health, and family outcomes. Conversely, children lacking stable housing are “more vulnerable to mental health problems, developmental delays, and poor cognitive outcomes,” while youth with stable homes are less likely to repeat a grade or drop out of school.

The Furman Center has also conducted a thorough economic analysis of the proposed HAVP program, which shows that given its expected benefits, both in the short- and long-term, HAVP is a cost-effective — and crucial — investment. Ultimately, rental assistance programs like HAVP reduce the burden on our public shelter system, and the costs associated, by preventing the need for such stays before they begin. The impact of this type of program has been nationally recognized and is in alignment with the Biden-Harris administration's call for states to set plans to reduce homelessness 25% by 2025.

As our state and its communities work to combat the worst homelessness crisis since the Great Depression, our solutions need to include long-term solutions and programs that will yield results in the near-term. With the Housing Compact, the Governor has designed a plan to create more housing across our state in the decade ahead. The Governor and the State Legislature have each proposed plans to create more affordable housing and protect existing affordable housing across our state into the future.

To support our neighbors who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness now, we encourage the Governor and State Legislature to enact HAVP, a program that would immediately change the lives of many New Yorkers, right away and for generations to come.

Baaba Halm is vice president and New York market leader at Enterprise Community Partners, and Barika Williams is Executive Director at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development. On Twitter @BaabaKHalm of @Enterprise_NYC & @barikaXw of @ANHDNYC.

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