Emma Whitford | August 31, 2015
Modeled after a rental assistance program instated for families with children this spring, the Special Exit and Prevention Supplement (SEPS) will provide rental assistance for up to 1,000 New Yorkers seeking permanent housing. According to the mayor’s office, the goal is to help hundreds of adults recently displaced from decrepit, dangerous, and often illegally subdivided three-quarter houses, as well as survivors of domestic violence, tenants on the brink of foreclosure, homeless veterans and recovering addicts.
“We’ve moved nearly 15,000 individuals into permanent housing through our rental assistance programs, and this is a continuation of our aggressive effort to both prevent homelessness and move New Yorkers from shelter into permanent housing,” spokesperson Ishanee Parikh said in a statement.
According to the mayor’s office, the initiative was prompted by a 12% increase in single homeless women in NYC this year, many of whom are domestic violence survivors. The city has also seen a 7% increase in homeless men in 2015 to date. The NYTimes reports that, as of August 5th, 56,542 people are living in the city’s homeless shelters —a decrease since last winter’s record 60,000. Still, as of this month the vacancy rate in city shelters is extremely low: just 1.1% for single adults, and 1.29% for families without children.
The goal of SEPS is to place homeless New Yorkers in permanent housing. In order to serve up to 1,000 New Yorkers with the designated $10 million in city funding, the program will cap its assistance at $1,213 per month, per adult—slightly higher than the maximum affordable 1-bedroom rent for New Yorkers making less than 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI), which is $1,028/month.
Still, Picture the Homeless is skeptical that the mayor’s affordable housing plan is generating enough housing stock that’s actually affordable for the homeless, and not just affordable for New Yorkers who make closer to 100% of the AMI. “Most of the new housing we’re seeing is not geared towards people making less than 30% of the AMI [$18,150 for one person],” said a spokesman for the organization.
“Almost everything that the city comes up with to combat homelessness is a smart utilization of the money they have, but they constantly have to look for landlords who will actually take their programs,” said Jeremy Saunders, a lead organizer for Vocal New York. “Often these are landlords who are more than happy to take city dollars and provide inadequate housing.”
Mary Brosnahan, president of Coalition for the Homeless, is more optimistic about today’s announcement. “Our organization has been doing rental assistance for the past 20 years, and we have been able to find studios in the $1,200 range in Brooklyn and the Bronx. So we do know it’s possible,” she said.
“The mayor really needs to be applauded for every attempt he’s making to address the homelessness emergency,” Saunders added. “But there is absolutely no way that this city can address homelessness in a real way without two things: First, the mayor needs to start pressing developers in his affordable housing plan and actually set aside units for homeless families. Second, Governor Cuomo needs to actually deliver on funding for supportive housing.”
An April report from homeless advocacy group Homes for Every New Yorker urged de Blasio and Cuomo to renew a city-state agreement that would create and fully fund 30,000 units of permanent supportive housing—apartments for the homeless and recently incarcerated supplemented with health and psychiatric services—over the next decade. While the Mayor has voiced his support of creating 12,000 additional units, Cuomo has only suggested 5,000 units state-wide, and just 3,900 for NYC.
“De Blasio and Cuomo need to take responsibility for what they each need to do,” said Saunders. “But Cuomo has been worse, because he is literally attacking the mayor for the homelessness problem—something that he himself has not delivered on.”