My name is Elizabeth Crowley, and I am the New York City Council Member for the 30th District, representing the Queens neighborhoods of Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, and parts of Woodside and Woodhaven.
New York City is currently facing what can only be called a “crisis.” As of today, there are over 58,000 individuals living just in New York City shelters alone, and that number is climbing each and every day. With thousands more homeless New Yorkers not even in shelters, but living on the streets, our City is currently experiencing levels of homelessness not seen in a generation.
I commend our state legislature for holding today’s hearing, for committing $30 million in this year’s budget to support homeless services, and for allowing New York City to access Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program funding to keep struggling families in their homes and out of shelters.
If we are serious about addressing this crisis, we need to be providing immediate help to families in the form of rental subsidies and permanent affordable housing.
The sharp increase in New York City’s homeless population is no accident. It began happening precisely after the state cut funding to the rental subsidy Advantage program, prompting the City to follow suit and close the program all together.
Programs like Advantage represented exactly the right approach to tackling homelessness. Through Advantage, families were provided with up to two years of rent subsidies to help participants get back on their feet, as long as they worked at least 20 hours a week and covered 30% to 40% of their rent.
At the time of the program’s elimination in spring 2011, over 18,700 New Yorkers people made up the 6,482 households that were receiving rent subsidies – with the City shelter population just under 40,000. The City DHS Commissioner even attested that over 90% of those who completed the subsidy period remained in the community and out of shelters.
In just a few short years since the end of this subsidy, the homeless population has increased nearly 50% and, just as City administration officials warned when the state funding was cut, the City has moved to open dozens of new homeless shelter to accommodate the population.
One of the proposed sites for a new shelter is right in the heart of a very residential portion of my district, on land that myself and other community advocates have been working to transform into a school to relieve the record overcrowding in our school district.
Shelters like the $27 million Samaritan Village project proposed in my district, in a building that would take years to rehabilitate, does not meet the immediate need for our City’s homeless population and places an undue burden on our community.
Mayor de Blasio has committed to preserve and create 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next 10 years. He has also introduced an $80 million proposal to reintroduce rental subsidies for hundreds of families facing homelessness.
Sadly, this is still not enough money to significantly reduce homelessness in New York. That is why New York State must reinstate a strong commitment to housing subsidies in New York City. By working with the City, we need to revive a robust voucher program that will responsibly fulfill our legal and moral obligation to house all New Yorkers.
As the legislature today weighs the depth of our homelessness crisis, I urge all my colleagues in state government to understand the sustainable solutions. Building more shelters anywhere in New York City is not one of them. Unless we do more to address the exploding homeless population at its root, I fear for the well-being of thousands of needy New Yorkers, and for communities already struggling to serve it existing residents.
Thank you for your time.