Wall Street Journal: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s pledge to combat record numbers of homeless people appeared to hit a significant roadblock Monday, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration suggesting city officials have run out of time to get state money for a new program.
March 24, 2014
With the city’s homeless population surging past 52,000 people a night for the first time, Mr. de Blasio had promised to seek state funding to help people leaving homeless shelters pay rent in independent apartments. A similar program had been cut in 2011, and the number of homeless shelter residents have risen ever since.
City officials said they have pushed Mr. Cuomo’s office for a change in state budget language to allow for state funding of a rent-subsidy program—with the details to be worked out later. But Cuomo administration officials said the city didn’t present a formal plan for funding a program, as the state wanted, and didn’t schedule a face-to-face meeting on the issue.
Instead, the mayor’s proposal to increase city income taxes on the wealthy to pay for free, full-day prekindergarten and after-school programs for middle school students has dominated the city’s agenda in the state capital. A budget agreement between
Mr. Cuomo and lawmakers must be reached by next Tuesday. “As everyone knows, the budget is due in less than a week so we assume the city’s proposal will be for next year because at this point it’s too late to take up anything significant this year,” said Mr. Cuomo’s communications director, Melissa DeRosa. Mr. de Blasio’s aides countered that they have talked about the issue many times over several weeks.
“With over 10,000 families in shelter every day it is critical that the state and the city work together to address our homeless crisis,” said de Blasio spokeswoman Maibe Ponet. “We hope to continue working with the governor’s office.” The fight over funding to help the homeless marks the latest rift between the mayor and the governor, both Democrats. They have also disagreed about how to pay for an expansion of prekindergarten and charter schools.
In January, Mr. Cuomo proposed a state budget that specifically blocked New York City from receiving state funds to create a new rent-subsidy program. At the time, an aide to the governor said Mr. Cuomo was open to discussing with Mr. de Blasio’s administration the possibility of a new program. De Blasio aides said they didn’t come to an agreement with state officials after many conversations.
A city document, dated March 6, outlines the contours of a new program that would provide rental assistance to as many as 2,800 families after they leave a homeless shelter—targeted to families with adults working 35 hours a week. Under this proposal, families would pay 30% of their income for rent, with the government paying the balance. Families would be eligible to receive the subsidy for three years, with the possibility of two additional one-year extensions. The total cost of this proposal, which city officials described as a modest start, is $21 million in the first year.
City officials said they had discussed the specifics of the program with the Cuomo administration.
At a City Council hearing on Monday, Gilbert Taylor, the new commissioner of the city’s Department of Homeless Services, initially told lawmakers that fewer people would be eligible for a new rental-subsidy program if the state didn’t provide funding. Later, he said, the “city can’t do it by itself.”
City officials and advocates were planning to travel to Albany on Tuesday to lobby lawmakers and the governor on the issue.
Councilman Stephen Levin of Brooklyn, chairman of the council’s Committee on General Welfare, said the state should eliminate language from the budget that prohibits state funding for a rental-subsidy program.
“If we don’t do this now, we are going to see the record rate of homelessness continue to increase,” Mr. Levin said.
In 2011, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s administration decided to cancel the city’s previous program, known as Advantage. Mr. Bloomberg said the city couldn’t afford to fund it alone after Mr. Cuomo and state lawmakers cut funding.
When Advantage ended, the city was spending $48 million, the state, $65 million, and the federal government, $27 million. Started in 2007, Advantage offered help with two years of rent to move people from shelters to permanent housing.
Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst for the Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group, said the city can’t wait a year to launch a new rental-subsidy program.
“There is nothing stopping state officials from removing the restrictive budget rule that prevents a new rental subsidy,” Mr. Markee said. “Given the record levels of New York homelessness, especially among children and families, we cannot afford to wait another year to deal with this crisis.”
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