Assembly Democrats outline new $450 million plan to tackle homelessness across New York

March 12, 2020


Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. Photo Credit: Susan Watts | New York Daily News

ALBANY ― Assembly Democrats have a five-year, $450 million plan to combat the state’s homeless crisis — and local governments would decide how the money is spent.

The proposal, to be rolled out next week as part of the Assembly’s annual one-house state budget proposal, would let borough presidents and other local officials decide how to allocate the money to such needs as rental subsidies, housing rehabilitation, transportation services, landlord incentives, and other services that will help keep people in their homes and off the streets.

“In the wealthiest country in the world, it is unconscionable that so many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx). “It is time, once and for all, that we put an end to the homeless crisis through strategic investments that help keep New Yorkers in their homes.”

Under what Assembly leaders call the Statewide Homelessness Reduction Plan — SHARP for short — each county will appoint a non-profit agency to spearhead a task force that will develop strategies to address homelessness and focus on keeping people close to eviction in their homes.

The measure, which will be subject to negotiations between the Assembly, the Senate and the governor before the April 1 budget deadline, is partly based on a long-stalled program proposed by Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Queens) that called for rental subsidies to help people stay off the streets.

Hevesi and Gov. Cuomo have sparred over the rental subsidy plan. But Hevesi thinks the new plan will “check all the boxes and objections the governor has raised over the last couple of years.”

“We’re putting a large sum of money, $450 million over five years, to stop the growth of the homelessness crisis and give counties mandate relief while preserving discretion for them to deal with homelessness as it manifests in their area,” Hevesi said. "Also, we really wanted to work cooperatively with the governor and take into account his objections over the last couple of years.”

In the city, at least 50% of the funds would be allocated for rent subsidies, Hevesi said.

Advocates argue for immediate action to address the state’s growing homeless population. The number of people staying in New York City shelters each night rose 60% between 2011 and 2019, an increase of more than 23,000 children and adults, advocates say. In December 2019, more than 62,000 people slept in city shelters.

Statewide, nearly 253,000 New Yorkers were homeless at some point during the 2018-2019 school year, staying in shelters or with friends or family, according to the non-profit Coalition for the Homeless.

Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director for policy at Coalition for the Homeless, said the measure, which would allot $100 million the first year, is a good starting point for state Capitol budget negotiations.

“This is the beginning of the negotiation, not the end. There’s a lot of moving parts," she said. “This is an excellent level of funding to be working with, particularly in the first couple of years.”

Giving local governments leeway with the spending is a good thing, Nortz said — but she thinks more money should be allotted for subsidies that help low income people stay in their homes.

“The more we can shore up the use of these resources for housing subsidies particularly, the better because that’s what we really need," she said. “I get a little worried about a laundry list of things and people having a boutique approach to things.”

Cuomo last month touted his administration’s efforts to boost affordable housing as the governor made addressing homelessness a priority for this year’s budget.

Construction is complete or underway on 56,000 affordable homes and funding approved for thousands of supportive housing units, Cuomo’s administration said last month.

The updated numbers are part of Cuomo’s own five-year, $20 billion plan to combat homelessness and create or preserve more than 100,000 affordable homes and 6,000 providing supportive services.

He is also calling on doubling a state-run housing program from $64 million to $128 million.

“We proposed the most robust, aggressive and accountable affordable housing and anti-homelessness program in the nation," Cuomo senior adviser Rich Azzopardi said. “If someone has another proposal, we’ll be glad to review it once its introduced.”