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NYC's Homeless Crisis Might Grow Under Trump Administration, Advocates Warn

By Amy Zimmer | February 27, 2017 2:32pm
 A homeless man in Midtown.
A homeless man in Midtown.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

MANHATTAN — Homeless advocates are bracing for changes to funding under the Trump administration as the city’s homeless population hits record highs, with roughly 60,000 New Yorkers in the shelter system.

The White House was expected to send federal departments a budget framework proposal on Monday that contained increases in defense spending but cuts to other areas, according to reports. Those changes could hobble affordable housing and rental assistance programs, adding tens of thousands of additional New Yorkers to the homeless rolls.

“There’s a tremendous amount at risk,” said Laura Mascuch, of the Supportive Housing Network of New York.

Nearly 60 percent of New Yorkers don’t have enough emergency savings to cover at least three months' worth of household expenses like food, housing and rent — putting them at extreme risk of homelessness in case of job loss or illness, according to a recent report from the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development.

Among the changes that the Trump Administration's budget could bring include a cut to corporate taxes, which could threaten the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, which helps fund the construction of new affordable housing, Mascuch said.

The budget cuts could also cause havoc for the city’s Section 8 voucher program, which is currently funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

There are approximately 140,000 Section 8 vouchers in NYC — about 90,000 of which are overseen by the New York City Housing Authority — and the rest of which are administered by the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

There is already a waiting list for vouchers, and families tend to be on it for years, advocates say.

If budget cuts force the Section 8 voucher program to freeze, it could be “devastating” to those waiting to get out of homeless shelters, said Rachel Fee, of the New York Housing Conference.

“To have some sort of pipeline into permanent housing, you need rental assistance,” she said. “Cuts to Section 8 are going to impact the city’s ability to deal with our growing homeless population. We’re still taking a wait-and-see approach. We’re hopeful the program will be maintained. It has a real impact on families.”

According to a recent report from City Comptroller Scott Stringer, if President Donald Trump follows through on his pledge to de-fund “Sanctuary Cities,” like New York — where local law enforcement refuses to cooperate with federal immigration authorities — the city could potentially lose $482 million in federal funding for the 39,000 Section 8 vouchers overseen by HPD.

If that were to happen, homelessness could swell even more, Stringer said during a recent interview with reporters and editors from DNAinfo.

"It could push homelessness over 100,000,” Stringer said.

Meanwhile, NYCHA's voucher program costs about $930 million, and the Housing Authority gets $910 million operating subsidy from the federal government, according to the Independent Budget Office.

In addition, the administration could slash Department of Housing and Urban Development funds, which currently distribute about $107 million to 200 supportive housing programs in New York, experts warn.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which funds a large portion of the city's family shelter system, could also be on the chopping block — which could threaten a rumored planned by de Blasio to build more neighborhood-based shelters, which sources said the mayor was expected to announce on Tuesday.

De Blasio in 2015 pledged to add 15,000 units of supportive housing over 15 years. Cuomo made a commitment to add 20,000 units over 15 years, allocating funding for 1,200 in the first year, but the $2.5 billion budget for the next 5 years has not yet been approved.

Though each program relies on Low income Housing Tax Credits, which could be among the programs slashed by the administration, Mascuch believes the programs can still move forward.

“These commitments are even more important now,” she said.