By Raquel Paulino, HousingLink Training and Technical Assistance Manager; and Alyssa Keil, Director, HousingLink
On October 29, New York City launched a new rental assistance program – CityFHEPS – that consolidates existing rental programs. CityFHEPS goal is to simplify and streamline the processes required to apply for, receive, and utilize city housing vouchers.
But what was the experience like before and what does this new program mean for individuals and families in the shelter system? Here’s what we learned from our advocacy.
Over time, New York City had created a number of rental subsidy programs to help individuals and families in shelter. Living In Communities (LINC) 1, 2, 4, and 5; City Family Eviction Prevention Supplement (CityFEPS); and Special Exit and Prevention Supplement (SEPS) were the most commonly used programs. Additional programs such as FHEPS (formerly LINC 3) and SOTA were also provided, though on a smaller scale. Each of these programs targeted different populations in the shelter system and “in the community,” i.e. still in housing but at risk of eviction. FHEPS was for survivors of domestic violence, LINC 1 for individuals in shelter working full time, and others were awarded to single people or households with a senior in the. The eligibility criteria for each program was slightly different, which led to confusion among nearly everyone – clients, advocates, and landlords. In addition, requirements for each voucher, maximum rent amounts and the calculation to determine the tenant share varied.
Multiple programs made housing discrimination easier. Regardless of which voucher an individual hoped to use, landlords and brokers would turn people away by saying: “We take programs, but not that program.” Though it is illegal and discriminatory to deny an apartment to someone based on a legal source of income the confusion regarding the multiple programs made it less likely that landlords would accept the vouchers. At the same time, processing a voucher typically took longer than expected and landlords would often cancel the application and rent to someone without a voucher. All of these factors made the process for securing a voucher designed to get individuals and families into affordable apartments mystifying to both advocates and individuals.
By creating CityFHEPS, which consolidated LINC 1, 2, 4, and 5; CityFEPS; and SEPS, the City seeks to minimize these barriers. Note that the consolidation did not include Pathway Home (formerly LINC 6) or FHEPS (formerly LINC 3). Here’s what’s good about this new program:
● Uniform eligibility requirements. With the exception of survivors of domestic violence who will still be evaluated for eligibility for FHEPS, all New Yorkers seeking rental assistance will be considered under the same eligibility guidelines. The basic criteria are that the individual or family have annual gross income that is less than 200% of, or two times, the federal poverty line for their household size, and be in a homeless or domestic violence shelter or at risk of entering shelter. You can read more about all of the eligibility criteria here.
● Uniform maximum rent amounts. Going forward, all households of the same size will follow the same guidelines for the maximum allowable rent, regardless of which New York City housing voucher they have. These maximum rent amounts are on the “shopping letter” provided by NYC Human Resources Administration (HRA) to individuals who have been deemed to eligible for the voucher. Once someone receives the shopping letter, they may begin the housing search and must locate an apartment with a rent amount equal to or less than the amount stated on the shopping letter. The apartment must also pass an HRA inspection.
● Decreased source of income discrimination. Because there are fewer rental assistance programs, landlords and brokers will have less of an opportunity to use the multiplicity of programs to discriminate against voucher holders.
● Increased incentives. The incentives for landlords have increased and there is an additional incentive for holding a unit. Brokers can receive 15% of the annual rent. The city and advocates hope that these increased incentives will encourage landlords to rent to voucher holders and hold the unit during the processing period.
We are pleased that the City recognized the negative impact that having a multiplicity of voucher programs had on accessing housing. The goal of each of us who work with individuals and families who are homeless is to get households out of shelter as quickly as possible, and to prevent those who are at-risk of homelessness from entering a shelter. The clearer, streamlined process offered through the new CityFHEPS program offers a possibility of achieving this goal. Visit our online Housing Resource Center to read more about CityFHEPS, eligibility, or what to do with unexpired voucher for one of the consolidated programs.