NYC Council expands rent voucher access; Mayor Adams may veto bill
The City Council voted Thursday to vastly expand access to rental vouchers in hopes that it’ll help low-income New Yorkers move out of homeless shelters faster — but the ultimate fate of the legislation was not immediately clear as Mayor Adams has affirmed his opposition to it.
Adams’ opposition to the package of bills reforming the CityFHEPS voucher system sets the stage for him to potentially issue a veto. His spokesman, Fabien Levy, would not say after the vote whether he will take the rare executive action, but added: “We are reviewing our options.”
In a sign that a veto would be cumbersome for Adams, 41 members of the Council voted in favor of the CityFHEPS package. That’s more than two-thirds of the chamber’s members — enough to override a veto from Adams should he take that route.
Speaking to reporters before the vote, Council Speaker Adrienne Adams — who’s unrelated to the mayor and has criticized him in increasingly heated terms lately — cautioned him against using executive authority to try to scuttle the bills.
“It would really be unfortunate if the mayor chose to veto the bills that help New Yorkers leave the shelter system,” she said. “We’ll cross that bridge if and when we get there.”
The package passed by the Council would abolish a rule that requires people to stay in shelters for 90 days before they can apply for CityFHEPS vouchers, which heavily subsidize rent for people with low incomes. That provision is aimed at making it easier for low income people to find permanent housing.
The Council bills would also expand eligibility by allowing people already living in rental housing who have received written rent demands from their landlords to apply for the vouchers.
Council Democrats have argued the package will help homeless New Yorkers get out of shelters faster, thereby freeing up beds in the system that could be used to accommodate the tens of thousands of asylum seekers who have streamed into the city since last year. Adams has for months raised alarm about the city running out of space to house migrants, and called on local, state and federal lawmakers to do more to help him find space.
Still, Adams came out in opposition of the measures earlier this week because he said the reforms would add $17 billion in CityFHEPS cost to the city over the coming five years.
After Thursday’s vote, Levy said the mayor’s opposition is also grounded in a belief that the bills “will make it harder for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness to exit shelter” because of existing application backlogs and housing shortages.
“Nearly 20,000 existing voucher holders who cannot currently find housing because of the extremely low vacancy rate in our city would be lumped in with thousands more, including anyone who stops paying rent, for any reason, if they are below 50% of area median income,” Levy said.
Manhattan Councilwoman Diana Ayala, who penned the main bill that’d repeal the 90-day eligibility rule, said she considers the arguments from Adams’ team “bull-crap” because eligibility remains based on income levels.
“It boils down to poverty-shaming. I’ve heard anything from, ‘People are going to not pay their rent and become in arrears so that then they can qualify for this,’” said Ayala, who used to be homeless and benefit from CityFHEPS.
“In order to qualify for a CityFHEPS voucher, you need to be in poverty,” she continued. “Who in their right mind would want to live that way if they have another option? Ask yourself that. I grew up in poverty; I understand it, many of us have, but you shouldn’t have to have lived in poverty to have a heart.”
Ayala acknowledged CityFHEPS application backlogs are a problem.
But she blamed that on a lack of staff at Adams’ Human Resources Administration, which processes the vouchers. “That is their problem to solve,” she said.
The Council’s Democratic leaders have disputed the mayor’s argument about cost.
Pointing to an analysis from Win, the city’s largest family shelter provider, they say removing the 90-day rule could actually save the city money since the per-day cost of housing a person in shelter is more expensive than the per-day cost of a CityFHEPS voucher.
They say there’s another potential economic benefit from removing the rule in that it could ease the city’s reliance on housing migrants in emergency shelters, which are much costlier than the regular system.
The Council’s finance team released an analysis ahead of Thursday’s vote, though, estimating that the rental voucher reforms would add $10.6 billion in cost to the city over the coming five years. The analysis held that figure may be inflated because it does not account for savings that could be generated from transitioning asylum seekers away from emergency shelters.
Levy said Adams’ team told the Council in negotiations that the mayor would’ve supported a stand-alone bill that only scrapped the 90-day rule for families. The Council turned down that offer, though.
In her pre-vote press conference, Speaker Adams said the Council did not consider the standalone offer because it’s “the entire package that we need.”
The beef over the CityFHEPS bills comes as the speaker and the mayor are locked in a contentious budget battle.
Asked how she’d characterize her professional relationship with the mayor at the moment, the speaker said, “interesting.”
“I’m going to leave it at the word, ‘interesting,” she said, “because we got a lot of work to get through.”