New York’s $220 Billion Budget Light on Solutions to Homelessness, Critics Say

“It’s pretty dreadful,” one housing advocate said. “The governor decided to-go drinks and a stadium in Buffalo were more important than housing the homeless and marginalized New Yorkers.” 

Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul discusses the Fiscal Year 2023 State Budget during a news conference at the State Capitol Thursday.

A decades-long affordable housing crisis has perpetuated mass homelessness across New York State, inflicting seismic social and financial consequences. You might not know it by looking at the state’s $220 billion tentative spending plan.

Lawmakers are poised to pass a budget that does little to house homeless New Yorkers, according to exasperated advocates and policymakers.

“It’s pretty dreadful,” said Legal Aid Society Supervising Attorney Judith Goldiner. “The governor decided to-go drinks and a stadium in Buffalo were more important than housing the homeless and marginalized New Yorkers.”

During protracted negotiations, lawmakers axed a proposed Section 8-style rent subsidy for New Yorkers experiencing or at-risk of homelessness after Gov. Kathy Hochul and her budget team said it was too expensive—though bill backers dispute her administration’s math.

The budget—which lawmakers have not yet finalized, though they announced a “conceptual agreement”— also excludes new funding for homeless New Yorkers with HIV outside the five boroughs, depletes a rental assistance program benefiting homeless immigrants without legal status and codifies language that shifts the cost burden of an increase to an existing state housing voucher on to New York City.

The Assembly and Senate had included $250 million to jumpstart the Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP) in their one-house budget proposals last month, but the proposed subsidy, which would prioritize homeless New Yorkers, did not make it into the final plan.

Hochul and her budget team said the program would carry a $6 billion price tag, New York Focus reported, but HAVP Senate sponsor Brian Kavanagh said legislators never saw a “rigorous analysis” of the program showing that number. The $250 million proposed by the legislature would have been enough to house 20,000 individuals and families who are homeless or facing eviction, he added.

“We should not be buying into the argument that the problem is so large that we shouldn’t take initial steps to address it,” Kavanagh said. “The bill is about shifting the focus from shelter and temporary accommodation to permanent housing as the solution to homelessness.”

Advocates said excluding HAVP from the largest budget in state history would set back families who face eviction or find themselves stuck in city shelters for an average of 18 months.

“HAVP would have gone a long way to ensure New York families can stay in their homes and out of shelter,” said the Family Homelessness Coalition (a City Limits funder) in a statement. “Without it, thousands of families will be pushed further to the brink of homelessness.”

About 47,000 New Yorkers, including around 14,600 children, spend each night in a shelter overseen by the Department of Homeless Services, according to daily data tracked by City Limits. Overall, more than 60,000 different New Yorkers stayed in a municipal homeless shelter in February, according to the latest data reported under city law and compiled by City Limits. An estimated 92,000 people are homeless statewide.

The budget specifically moves money from another rent relief fund touted as a way to house immigrants without legal documentation whose immigration status precludes them from most housing assistance programs.

The state has forced New York City to pay a portion of FHEPS rental vouchers for homeless families who receive public assistance out of the same pot of money. Under the plan, the city would cover the difference between the previous rate of the state’s FHEPS voucher and the new, higher voucher values pegged to fair market rent (FMR)—meaning fewer funds leftover for the rental assistance initiative intended for immigrants.

Hochul had signed the state FHEPS increase into law at a celebratory press conference late last year, but critics say the cost-shifting maneuver continues a Cuomo-era trend of the state pushing the financial burden for homeless services to the city.

A spokesperson for the state’s Budget Office called criticism of that arrangement a “false premise.”   

FHEPS is considered an eligible use under the state’s $100 million relief program, “meaning the State is paying for FHEPS, and the program has never reserved funds for any particular group of people,” the spokesperson said.

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