Increased State Housing Subsidy Will Help Poor Families Avoid Homelessness
by Lisa Pearlstein March 3, 2017
Rochelle, a former client of the City Bar Justice Center’s Legal Clinic for the Homeless, has struggled to pay rent for the tiny one bedroom apartment in the Bronx that she shares with her two school-age daughters. Rochelle has health problems, but she manages to work part-time as a home health aide. Since leaving shelter years ago, she has received the same monthly New York State public assistance subsidy, about $850 per month, to help pay her rent.
Because the subsidy, the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement (FEPS), has not kept up with increases to her rent which is now set at $1,066 monthly, Rochelle has faced eviction for nonpayment of rent multiple times over the past two years. Thousands of families in New York City, many with higher monthly rents, have faced this dire predicament. Unable to pay their rent, thousands have ended up homeless.
Now life is about to change for the better for Rochelle, her girls, and the thousands of families receiving FEPS. New York State just settled a lawsuit filed by The Legal Aid Society and Hughes Hubbard & Reed by agreeing to significantly increase the FEPS subsidies it issues on behalf of low-income families with children in New York City. This increase, coupled with the new New York City initiative to provide lawyers to all low-income tenants in Housing Court, should substantially reduce the number of homeless families seeking shelter from an overburdened City shelter system.
In addition, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi has proposed a new rental subsidy program, Housing Stability Support, which would cover families receiving public assistance throughout New York State. His plan also seeks to close the gap between the current rental assistance issued by the State and average fair market rents.
As of today, there are 62,674 people sleeping in shelters in New York City, including 15,856 homeless families. Many ended up in shelter due to eviction for non-payment of rent. Currently there are about 10,000 families in apartments in the State-administered FEPS program and another 1,000 in a similar program administered by the City. All of these families receiving FEPS have been at risk of entering the shelter system because the rent subsidies have not kept up with rising rents.
Now that risk is substantially reduced. Under the court new settlement, a family of three previously eligible for a FEPS subsidy of $850, like Rochelle, will now be eligible for up to $1,515 per month, a 78% increase. As a result, Rochelle’s family, and others like them who are receiving FEPS subsidies, should be able to avoid the shelter system and remain stably housed.
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