Levin says budget language change helps homeless

It was a simple act, but a move by Governor Andrew Cuomo to remove wording from the state budget before the budget was enacted last week will have a positive effect on the city’s effort to help homeless families, according to Councilman Stephen Levin.

Levin, chairman of the council’s General Welfare Committee, is applauding Cuomo for removing language from the budget that prevented New York City from using state funds for a rental assistance program for homeless families. The new language in the negotiated budget deal will allow state funds to be used by the city for that purpose.

“Over the last decade we have seen the level of homelessness in New York City grow to record levels and for too long families have suffered. Families have not been afforded the opportunity to obtain permanent housing and without serious action being taken, the homelessness crisis in our city promises to grow even worse. While there is still much to be done, the actions taken by Governor Cuomo are crucial to providing the homeless residents of New York City a path out of homelessness,” Levin (D-Greenpoint-Williamsburg) said.

Levin was joined by council members Ruben Wills (D-Queens) and Vanessa Gibson (D-Bronx) as well as homeless advocates during a visit to the State Legislature a week before the budget was passed to advocate for rent assistance for the homeless. The group met with numerous legislators in the senate and assembly. The City Council also passed a resolution sponsored by Wills that called for the restrictive language to be removed from the state budget.

Newsday reported on March 26 that Mayor Bill de Blasio had requested a language change in the budget but that Cuomo’s office said the mayor’s request was issued too late. Cuomo eventually relented and agreed to insert the change, according to the Newsday report.

“This change will affect more than 10,000 homeless families including 22,000 children and aid in their participation in the pathway to permanent housing. The passing of the state budget with the amended changes was needed to address the dismal number of the homeless population in New York City,” Willis said.

“Every New Yorker should have access to the safe, quality, affordable housing that is so essential to raising a family and living a comfortable and secure life. We know from experience that while New York City’s shelter system seeks to address the housing needs of tens of thousands of families every day, it can never replace the permanent housing that shelter residents so desperately need,” Gibson said.

Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless, said Cuomo’s action was an important step. “The state has taken a needed first step by amending budget language that prevented the City from offering rent subsidies to homeless families,” he said.

But more needs to be done at the governmental level, according to Markee. “The city and state must now work quickly to provide stable affordable housing to homeless New Yorkers through a new rent subsidy program, priority access to NYCHA housing and Section 8 vouchers, and housing created or preserved in the mayor's overall affordable housing plan,” he said.

NYCHA is the New York City Housing Authority. Section 8 is a federally funded program providing rent subsidies for low income tenants.

Christy Parque, executive director of Homeless Services United, Inc., said the language changes inserted by Cuomo “pave the way for a new path to housing for nearly 60,000 New Yorkers.”