August 16, 2016

Speaker Carl Heastie: Assembly's Comprehensive Housing Plan Addresses Diverse Needs

The New York State Assembly is often referred to as the "People's House" - and for good reason. Every day, we work to ensure that New York families have access to the things that they need most: a living wage, a quality education and housing that offers security and stability.

Housing is fundamental to our health and daily lives, and for many New Yorkers, it is their greatest monthly expense. The number of New Yorkers who must devote a majority of income toward rent continues to rise: in 2012, it was reported that more than three million households in our state paid at or above the affordability threshold of 30 percent of household income for housing. Even worse, more than half of those households spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing. It is clear that an affordable housing crisis exists in New York State.

As part of the enacted state budget, the Assembly championed a $2 billion housing plan to meet the diverse needs of New Yorkers all across the state. These funds are subject to a Memorandum of Understanding between the Assembly, the Senate, and the Governor that will define how this money will be spent. For the Assembly Majority, the priorities couldn't be more clear. Our plan would invest in much-needed public housing capital repairs, the revitalization of Mitchell-Lama properties, an expansion of affordable housing opportunities for seniors and vulnerable populations, as well as other programs and initiatives.

Creating New Affordable Housing

An unacceptable number of New Yorkers are spending too much of their income on housing, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to afford food, utilities, and other necessary household goods. Without the creation of new affordable housing units, New Yorkers will be facing higher housing costs, which can lead to the displacement of existing residents and an increase in the number of households for whom housing is no longer affordable. The creation and preservation of affordable housing will help to solve the housing crisis and homelessness epidemic, and ensure that all New Yorkers have access to quality and safe housing. Significant to achieving this goal in the long-term is the preservation of our existing housing stock, be it publicly or privately owned.

Improving Existing Public Housing

New York State has a longstanding tradition of providing public housing to those New Yorkers who need it most. Today, approximately eight percent of New York City's rental units are managed by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), and nearly half a million of the city's residents live in these units. Many of these properties are aging and are in desperate need of repair, and the Assembly plan allocates funds to make these much needed capital improvements.

Mitchell-Lama properties, which provide housing for moderate income families, are facing unique challenges. Despite high demand, these properties are dwindling because current statute allows them to leave the program after 20 years. As an incentive to prevent the loss of this valuable housing, the Mitchell-Lama Rehabilitation and Preservation Program was created to offer flexible, low-cost financing to help lower debt service payments for Mitchell-Lama owners and to otherwise free up resources for capital improvements and building renovations. In turn, owners are required to keep rents affordable for an additional 40 years. The Assembly plan provides additional funding for this program. We also call for millions of dollars to be invested in upstate public housing programs across the state because every New Yorker deserves a home they are proud to live in.

Addressing Homelessness and New York's Most Vulnerable Populations

New York's most vulnerable populations are in need of funding as well. Investments in supportive housing are the most effective way to end homelessness for those who need it most, such as individuals coping with mental illness, trauma or abuse, substance use disorder or other chronic illnesses such as HIV and AIDS. Numerous studies on the costs and benefits of public housing have reached the same conclusion: leaving these vulnerable individuals and families homeless is extremely costly to taxpayers and providing them with supportive housing saves more than enough money to pay for the housing, while also providing savings to taxpayers.

Investing in supportive housing is a common sense solution that is not only fiscally responsible, but is an investment that provides people an opportunity to turn their lives around. The Assembly Majority supports the inclusion of of funding for the construction and operation of at least 6,000 new supportive housing units statewide, and secured the release of the first years' worth of funding to begin the creation of these units. Our plan includes $30 million to create supportive housing for the homeless in upstate New York.

The Assembly also recognizes that as parents of children with developmental disabilities age, they deserve peace of mind that their loved ones are being supported and cared for. The Assembly plan supports a significant targeted investment in affordable housing units for these vulnerable developmentally disabled individuals. Additionally, while a series of successful actions have been taken to assist individuals living with HIV and AIDS, the Assembly Majority is proposing additional funding for services and support to allow this population to receive the assistance they need to maintain stable housing. It is unconscionable and irresponsible to neglect the housing needs of those who need it most.

Funding New Senior Housing Programs

Seniors all across New York State are also in need of safe and affordable housing options. There are currently 2.6 million seniors living in New York State and studies suggest that number could increase by 40 percent by the year 2040. Although many seniors would prefer to continue living in the homes they're familiar with, and the Assembly is very supportive of those efforts, for many that is simply not an option. As rents continue to rise, seniors living on a fixed income are struggling to find housing that suits their unique needs. Additionally, many seniors fall prey to unscrupulous actors and suffer the injustice of being forced out of their homes through tenant harassment and a wanton disregard of rent regulation laws. Our plan would fund a new senior housing program and help to prevent seniors from having to make difficult decisions about their living arrangements.

I am proud that everyone - the Assembly, the Senate, and the Governor - recognized the need to invest in housing and agreed to an unprecedented $2 billion commitment in the budget. It's time to get serious about how this money will be allocated. Millions of New Yorkers who are struggling to keep their heads above water are counting on us. I urge my colleagues in the Senate and the Governor to join us in making a real difference in the lives of the people we serve.

By Carl E. Heastie

Speaker of the New York State Assembly