Ready for a bill-signing (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)
Even before the pandemic, domestic violence was a leading cause of family homelessness in New York City, where a majority of shelter residents are single women of color and their children. In large part, this is because for single mothers, the city’s sky-high housing costs have been a major barrier to fleeing to safety. While New York State offers rental assistance to domestic violence survivors in shelter or at risk of losing their housing through the Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (FHEPS) program, rental assistance levels are set so far below market rates that vouchers tend to go unused for years.
Currently there is not a single neighborhood in New York City where the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is affordable with the existing voucher. As a result, thousands of families have been left behind by this failing program.
COVID-19 has only intensified financial insecurity for many low-income households and deeply exacerbated the challenges facing survivors. Meanwhile, the increased isolation and stress due to the pandemic made even more women at risk of domestic violence.
Now many of these families are facing their second covid winter with these twin emergencies that force them into an impossible choice – staying with their abusers or leaving and becoming homeless.
New York State has an opportunity right now to change that and help mothers and children across the state access the housing they need to stay safe. In June, state legislators passed a bill (S6573/A8009) to permanently raise the FHEPS rent cap to Fair Market Rent (FMR) and ensure more recipients can utilize their vouchers to increase housing support for families leaving an abusive home so they can afford the ever-increasing rent and have a safe place of their own.*
The FHEPS program provides support to families with minor children who receive cash assistance and allows them to relocate to housing away from their abusers and bypass the shelter system. Months later it still awaits the governor’s signature.
We are urging Governor Kathy Hochul to make a meaningful difference in the lives of survivors by signing the bill into law. While Domestic Violence Awareness Month has come to an end, it is essential that we send survivors a message that their stability and safety is important and we will support them by ensuring that leaving an abusive partner doesn’t mean they must become homeless. However, without the supplemental housing raise to Fair Market Rate, these families risk homelessness or will be stuck in the shelter system without a permanent way out.
The voucher program also contains unique eligibility guidelines intended to address the needs of domestic violence survivors who are unemployed. Many survivors are prohibited from working by their abusive partner and many others are forced to quit their jobs when they flee their abuser. This makes the housing voucher, which does not require an abuse survivor to work, a critical resource for the many survivors who don’t have additional income. By raising the supplement amount to fair market rent, the state will provide much-needed rent relief to address housing stability for thousands of women and children, not just during the pandemic, but long-term.
Over 100 organizations this year worked together to get the higher rent supplement passed in Albany. With Governor Hochul’s signature, this change has the potential to profoundly reduce homelessness in New York State and provide a lifeline to survivors of abuse who would not be able to escape without housing support.
The pandemic has taught us that we are only as safe as the most vulnerable among us. It is a
moral and public health imperative that we ensure all New Yorkers have a stable roof overhead
and that we work to stem the homelessness crisis.
Governor, we applaud your clear-sighted leadership amid the COVID-19 crisis. Now thousands of families urgently need you to help them get the meaningful rent assistance that will enable them to build a safe and healthy life in a home of their own. Sign this bill without delay.
*Note: Even as Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Banks recently released new regulations for CtiyFHEPS that raise rent levels for the city program, which primarily serves working households who reside in shelters and allows them to renew assistance if they earn up to 80% of AMI, the changes we seek to the state program would prevent homelessness entirely for families fleeing domestic violence and parents with children facing eviction who receive public assistance. The state can and must step up to do its part to ensure that these families, who are not eligible for the city program, can achieve housing stability and avoid homelessness.