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Mayor Adams’ Rental Relief Reform Doesn’t Scrap Criticized Rule

The New York City mayor said the reforms to the rental assistance program will make it easier to access the CityFHEPS voucher program but did not address removing the 90-day rule which housing advocates have slammed.

(TNS) — New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a host of reforms to the city’s red tape-ridden rental assistance program on Monday — but stopped short of scrapping a decades-old rule that housing advocates say curtails access to the program.

In a press conference at City Hall, Adams and his top housing advisers said the reforms will make it easier to benefit from the so-called CityFHEPS voucher program, which heavily subsidizes monthly rent costs for some categories of low-income New Yorkers.

For starters, the administration is expanding eligibility by making CityFHEPS vouchers available to any single adult working a full-time minimum wage job, regardless of whether their income is slightly higher than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, Adams said. Currently, only those earning below 200 percent are eligible.

The city is also reducing the amount of money CityFHEPS-eligible New Yorkers must contribute toward their rent for single-room-occupancy units, capping it at $50 per month, Adams said. At the moment, CityFHEPS beneficiaries in that category must chip in 30 percent of their income.

Among the other reforms rolled out by Adams is a provision that shaves the number of hours families are required to work weekly to be eligible for CityFHEPS from 30 to 14 hours, as well as a new subsidy that covers the cost of apartment application fees for homeless shelter residents.

“It’s clear that the housing crisis is this big knot that sits at the center of many of problems that the city is facing,” Adams told reporters. “We must untangle those knots that are preventing people from getting into housing.”

However, one knot in the CityFHEPS bureaucracy that was not addressed in Monday’s announcement is the so-called 90-day rule.

The rule, which was first implemented by Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration, mandates that people stay a minimum of 90 days in a city-run shelter before becoming eligible to apply for CityFHEPS.

Housing advocates have long decried the rule as arbitrary, while arguing that lifting it would speed up the process of getting New Yorkers out of the shelter system, which saw its population reach an all-time high last month.

Asked why he’s not repealing the 90-day rule, Adams acknowledged housing activists urged him to do so, but said his administration is still examining the potential budgetary impact of such a policy shift. He didn’t rule out eliminating the requirement in the future, though.

“We’re going to look at that also, so everything is on the table,” he said.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Bronx Councilwoman Diana Ayala, who chairs the Council’s General Welfare Committee, called the mayor’s Monday announcement “important” — but highlighted the lack of action on the 90-day rule.

“The need to remove the 90-day in-shelter requirement to obtain CityFHEPS rental vouchers remains and must be confronted,” the two Council Democrats said in a statement. “As a city, we must focus on all necessary actions to help people secure the safe and stable housing they need.”

Also in the package of reforms unveiled by Adams is a pilot program that will connect 80 New Yorkers living on the streets with immediate placement in city-subsidized supportive housing units, circumventing the shelter system. The “Street to Housing” pilot will be on a first-come, first-served basis, according to Social Services Commissioner Gary Jenkins.

Adams said the city could expand the pilot beyond the first 80 people. But he said his administration needs to first conduct more research into the so-called “housing first” concept, which has been adopted by some other U.S. cities, including Houston.

Kathleen Cash, a homeless advocate with the Safety Net Project, said the pilot is a “positive step,” but questioned the mayor’s argument for more research.

“No one needs more research or ‘pilot projects’ to show that ‘housing-first’ works — the available research is comprehensive and readily available,” she said.

Cash also noted that the city has hundreds of supportive housing units sitting empty.

“There are serious actions the city can take, that it has power over, to fill those units. They’ve simply refused to,” she said before taking a shot at Adams’ controversial crackdown on street homeless encampments: “Instead, the city’s main strategy for intervening in street homelessness have been the 1,500+ sweeps that move the most vulnerable out of sight and make it ever harder for them to actually exit homelessness.”

©2022 New York Daily News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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