Nonprofits call for greater access to city vouchers as evictions loom By Suzannah Cavanaugh
From left: Eric Adams, mayor of New York City; Rich Buery, chief executive officer, Robin Hood; Scott Short, chief executive officer, RiseBoro (Getty Images, Twitter/LISC NYC, iStock/Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal)
Nonprofits are calling on Mayor Eric Adams and a revamped City Council to help stem an expected tide of eviction filings after Gov. Kathy Hochul confirmed that the state’s eviction moratorium will expire this weekend.
The policy they’re pushing for: a further expansion of the city’s housing voucher program.
To make vouchers accessible to more residents, nonprofits RiseBoro Community Partnership and the Robin Hood Foundation suggest that the city eliminate the requirements that tenants must have lived in the shelter system for at least three months, received public assistance or faced an eviction notice in order to qualify for rental assistance.
“Because of these strict criteria that target families only after crises, the vouchers do not prevent evictions from being filed as much as help families secure housing after they have been evicted,” reads a report issued by the Robin Hood Foundation last week. The groups say the changes will expand voucher access to all rent-burdened New Yorkers making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level — or about $26,000 per year for an individual and $53,000 for a family of four. Households earning more than that are ineligible for city vouchers.
The city has already made substantial changes to the program in the past year.
In August, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio okayed a 90 percent bump on the value of city vouchers, bringing them in line with federal Section 8 levels. In November, the city revised the program’s rules to allow recipients to hold on to their vouchers for five years as long as they earn no more than 80 percent of the area median income, or $66,880 for an individual, City Limits reported. Previously, a tenant that made more than 250 percent of the federal poverty line — $32,200 for a single adult — would be ineligible for a voucher renewal. Advocates had criticized the rule for forcing tenants to choose between a job that paid a living wage and stable housing.
Last month, Hochul approved a measure that raised the value of state vouchers to match the city’s increase.
Despite those measures, the nonprofits say the program’s eviction requirements remain a sticking point. Throughout the moratorium, the state has waived the requirement that tenants show proof of an eviction filing to qualify for rent supplements. But that waiver will lapse on Jan. 15 along with the ban. With courts backlogged after nearly two years of stayed proceedings and a flurry of filings expected once the ban lifts, the requirement would only further burden the court system.
Landlords will be forced to initiate eviction proceedings in order to recover the up to $9,000 in arrears the program can cover. Many pursue evictions only as a last resort.
Because landlords still hold an estimated $2 billion in arrears that the state’s rent relief program has been unable to cover, lifting the eviction requirement could bring owners relief without the stress and expense of navigating the court system.
The nonprofits are also calling for the value of city vouchers to “more closely reflect the true cost of housing in New York City’s rental market.” The de Blasio-approved increase means vouchers now cover up to $1,945 for a one-bedroom apartment, a hefty jump from the $1,265 single adults could qualify for under the previous version of the program. Still, the increase does not match the city’s surging rental market. In the past year, the median price for a one-bedroom apartment has ballooned 40 percent, according to the rental marketplace Zumper. It currently stands at $3,295.
It’s unclear whether Mayor Adams would support further changes to the program. He ran on increasing the value of the city vouchers to more accurately reflect housing costs, and when de Blasio signed the voucher bump into law last summer, Adams tweeted his approval. He has not commented on the policy since.