News

Making Vouchers Work

(Interfaith on Homelessness and Housing), Marc Greenberg, April 28, 2023

In his last public address Dr. King pledged “We as a people will get to the promised land”  

For nearly 40 years, the Assembly has worked to assist New York’s people and communities of faith and good will to more fully apply our values and resources – in ways small and large – to help bring us closer to a city in which no one need be without a decent place in which to live. And today, I believe we are poised to make significant progress despite great challenges.

I’m pleased to share with you some good news in the face of these challenges, and invite you to consider how you and your community might participate in these efforts and reduce the distance between ourselves and those who struggle – as we build Dr. King’s “Beloved Community” and partner in what the Interfaith Assembly has called “Building the Blessed City Together.” The Interfaith Assembly believes much can be accomplished by seeking partners and developing common ground solutions.

Making Vouchers Work

One of the most effective ways to help people secure permanent housing is to assist them to obtain rental subsidy vouchers and then to secure an apartment that the voucher will help to pay for. (Normally, a voucher holder is required to pay 30% of their income towards rent with the voucher covering the rest). Historically, federally guaranteed Section 8 vouchers have been the most secure of all vouchers – normally being renewed every 20 years or so. But under the presidency of George Bush Jr. the number of new Section 8 vouchers was reduced drastically forcing New York City and State to develop alternatives in an attempt to fill in the gap. Under Mayor Bill Deblasio, NYC issued 16,000 CityFHEPS (Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement) Vouchers for adults living in city shelters but, initially the subsidy amount was insufficient to pay for all but a very small number on NYC apartments. In 2021, as a result of strong leadership from city council member Steve Levin and a large advocacy community including #homescantwait, the CityFHEPS reimbursement levels were increased significantly, putting housing security within reach for tens of thousands of City shelter residents. However, despite this very good news, many obstacles remain for most CityFHEPS voucher holders. 

There are still significant staffing deficits in the City administration’s capacity to accommodate the number of voucher holders seeking to move into housing. (The Assembly recently endorsed a letter signed by over 75 organizationscalling on the Mayor to scale back his proposed cuts to housing and homeless services) These staffing shortages are further complicated by some procedural inefficiencies that the Interfaith Assembly, #homescantwait and the NYC council are working to address. These bureaucratic inefficiencies can cause landlords to be hesitant to begin the process of interviewing voucher holders, knowing that the process, even when moving well, can result in a vacant apartment for 3 months or much more. In fact, we have worked with voucher holders who have waited as long as FIVE YEARS to finally secure a home. The emotional ordeal that a delay of even one year can cause can leave long terms trauma beyond measure!!

Another major impediment to the successful utilization of vouchers known as “Source of Income Discrimination “, is the unwillingness of apartment owners / managers to accept them. This is often pointed to as a major factor in the extreme difficulty and emotional hardship that many vouchers holders experience in finding apartments, but the issue is more complex. Another significant factor is the many tens of thousands of rent regulated apartments are being kept vacant by landlords who are lobbying for a scaling back of rent regulations that currently cap their ability to do “mayor capital improvements” which would justify raising rent levels beyond current voucher levels. In addition to these factors, the Interfaith Assembly has spoken to a number of landlords (some who currently rent to voucher holders and are willing to continue to do so) who have had or have heard of experiences with a few tenants that have resulted in significant problems and financial losses. One landlord recounted that his losses from one voucher tenant amounted to nearly $25,000. 

With all of this in mind, the Interfaith Assembly is embarking on an effort – the ” Interfaith Voucher Support Project ” to identify landlords willing to rent to voucher holders who they are are confident would be responsible tenants – while at the same time ensuring that these tenants receive the support they need to do so. As part of this effort, the Assembly, with support from a number of partners including the Community of Sant’ Egidio, the Life and Faith Sharing Associates and the Church of the Gethsemane, is establishing what we are calling a “Fellowship of Accompaniment” to match voucher holders (“fellows”) with volunteer “Partners” who will provide support as the fellows navigate the difficult journey to secure a stable apartment. We have already identified a number of landlords with available apartments who have expressed a willingness to work with our fellows, and we are now seeking additional volunteer partners to become part of our efforts. We are also seeking additional landlords willing to participate going forward. Our project is inspired by a number of efforts around the country that have established a support structure successfully linking landlords with voucher holders. One of these is the Baltimore Regional Housing Partnership https://brhp.org/ that currently provides over 4,300 low-income families rental assistance in the Baltimore region. If you would like to join our efforts to support New York City Voucher holders please email me at Marc@iahh.org.

On a related front , the New York State budget which is days from completion (almost one month late) looks like it may include funding for the Housing Access Voucher Program HAVP– which would provide state funded rental subsidy vouchers to those experiencing homelessness or facing evictions – regardless of immigration status. After over four years of efforts, inclusion of this program in the state budget would be a great advance for our state’s capacity to help our most vulnerable residents.

Affordable Housing 101 — Guidance for the Faith Community — 

On-line workshop – Tuesday, May 2nd, 10am to 11:30am

One crucial factor in addressing the homelessness and affordable housing crisis is to create more affordable housing. The Interfaith Assembly is pleased to invite you to join us for this important event to help the faith community to do just that. The workshop is co-sponsored by the Partnership for Faith Based Affordable Housing and Community Development of which the Interfaith Assembly is a founder.

Source: Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing