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Mayor Calls on State to Increase Aid for Domestic Violence Survivors

By Jeff Mays | March 23, 2016 7:13pm
 Mayor Bill de Blasio called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Senate to expand a rental assistance program to include victims of domestic violence at City Hall Wednesday. The mayor is flanked on the left by Steven Banks, commissioner of the Human Resources Administration and on the right by Dr. Herminia Palacio, deputy mayor for Health and Human Services.
Mayor Bill de Blasio called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Senate to expand a rental assistance program to include victims of domestic violence at City Hall Wednesday. The mayor is flanked on the left by Steven Banks, commissioner of the Human Resources Administration and on the right by Dr. Herminia Palacio, deputy mayor for Health and Human Services.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

CITY HALL — Mayor Bill de Blasio called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Senate to expand a rental assistance program to include victims of domestic violence.

The Family Eviction Prevention Subsidy is a state program that provides up to five years rental assistance to families to help keep them from losing their home. But under current state guidelines, domestic violence victims who leave their home are not eligible.

"A family fleeing their home for their safety is not considered a family that's been evicted," said the mayor at a City Hall roundtable discussion on the issue. "People who literally are in danger, maybe they don't go through the traditional dynamic of eviction in their dealing with landlords, but they're having the exact same outcome: They suddenly don't have a home."

The city has a similar program that does include domestic violence victims but because rental assistance programs were slashed during the Bloomberg administration, landlords are wary of taking renters using the city program.

"From the perspective of the people who owned the buildings, suddenly, the rug was pulled from out of under them and they were cynical about government's commitment to this type of approach," said de Blasio, who added that he has tried to personally reassure landlords about the city's commitment to funding the rental subsidy to lukewarm results.

The state program has been around since 2005 and has a lot more credibility with landlords, the mayor said.

A survivor of domestic violence, a 40-year-old woman with three children who shared her story with roundtable attendees, said no landlords want to accept the rental assistance programs currently available to her after an altercation with her brother forced her from her home in July.

"I have come up against a lot of walls and it's been a struggle," said the woman who is currently living in a shelter and who wants to remain anonymous.

Having FEPS would alleviate some of the challenges of getting an apartment, she said. Being repeatedly denied an apartment is a "frustrating challenge while you're trying to get back to a place of normalcy," she said.

Steven Banks, commissioner of the Human Resources Administration, said moving domestic violence clients out of shelter in a timely manner helps keep enough space available for those facing homelessness or fleeing domestic violence.

The city's shelter population remains near record highs with more than 57,000 people, including almost 23,000 children.

If the city paid $19.7 million for the program, which it is willing to do, and the state chipped in $8.3 million, the city would be able to draw an additional $35.6 million in federal Temporary Assistance for Need Families money to fund FEPS.

The city would be able to help a total of 8,300 families facing eviction, including 2,500 families dealing with domestic violence and 1,600 other families facing homelessness.

The mayor also called for the state to increase the amount of money available under the program for rental assistance. Currently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says a family in New York City needs at least $1,515 to afford an apartment. FEPS currently provides $1,050 per month.

Nathaniel Fields, CEO of the Urban Resources Institute, which provides services to domestic violence victims, said a "variety of options" are necessary to help victims of domestic violence who are at the "highest level of danger" when they leave their homes in the city's tough real estate environment.

"It's very difficult for survivors to actually leave shelter because they can't find safe and affordable housing," Fields said.

State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has included the change allowing FEPS to be used for domestic violence victims and increasing the funding to match federal standards in the body's budget.

The city has had "productive" discussions with the state Senate about also endorsing the change but have received "no commitments," Banks said.

"There's three elements in Albany and one of them is present and accounted for," de Blasio said referring to the Assembly commitment to the changes. "We need the other two to join in."

De Blasio has feuded with Cuomo over the homelessness crisis, with the governor questioning the mayor's ability to properly manage the problem with the resources available.

De Blasio has overhauled the city's delivery of homeless services and introduced several new initiatives and billions of dollars in spending.

Asked about expanding FEPS to include domestic violence victims, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said the state was monitoring "ongoing litigation" on "rental assistance parameters" closely.

"We've made that clear to the city," Azzopardi said.