Statement by New York State Senator Duane before the New York City Council Public Housing and General Welfare Committee Hearing on the Suspension of NYCHA Section 8 Vouchers

OFebruary 9, 2010

As a New York State Senator representing a district with one of the most cost-prohibitive housing markets in the nation, I am particularly concerned about the sudden and previously undisclosed cessation of new Housing Choice Voucher Program benefits (Section 8) administered by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the rescission of assigned vouchers. I applaud the Public Housing and General Welfare Committees of the New York City Council for holding this hearing and seeking viable housing options for those affected by this catastrophe.

Like me, many New Yorkers were shocked in mid-December when NYCHA announced that it had stopped issuing Section 8 vouchers, and that the 3,018 vouchers that had already been issued to families but not yet used were effectively terminated. These vouchers serve as essential rental subsidies for low-income households so that they can afford to live in privately-owned rental housing. Those whose vouchers were rendered worthless include formerly homeless families, victims of domestic violence, intimidated witnesses and children aging out of foster care, who are especially at-risk of homelessness.

According to a December 18, 2009 report by NY1 News, g[NYCHA] officials waited more than six months to cancel the vouchers with the hope that funds would be restored and more apartments would become available.h While I sincerely appreciate NYCHA's ongoing efforts to provide safe and decent affordable housing with dwindling public funding, it is hard to give credence to the claim that the authority sought to maintain its Section 8 program without mobilizing its immense public and political base. Had NYCHA promptly disclosed the programfs impending suspension, it would have enabled voucher-holders and prospective voucher-holders, community-based organizations and local elected officials to organize a massive campaign in support of our congressional delegationfs efforts to restore funding, and to preemptively craft solutions to support those who would be affected. Tragically, that did not happen.

Going forward, we must work together to ensure stable housing for for those families whose vouchers have been rendered worthless. I have been working with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and elected officials and housing advocates across the five boroughs to ensure NYCHA works with all levels and branches of government to provide alternative rental assistance for these extremely vulnerable New Yorkers.

Earlier this year, I joined Borough President Stringer and 29 other elected officials in sending NYCHA and the Bloomberg Administration a letter outlining a six point plan of short- and long-term solutions to this crisis. Among other recommendations, we urged NYCHA to give priority for any and all vacant and habitable apartments available to those whose vouchers were terminated. We noted that the City must also work with local members of the New York State Legislature and the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance to secure funding for an extension of Work Advantage, a program that provides rental assistance to the working poor – many of whom are Section 8 voucher-holders or are on the waiting list. And we urged the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development to give priority for its available vouchers to those families who were affected by this debacle.

Regrettably, more than seven weeks have passed since NYCHA officials announced the cancellation of these vouchers and we still have no clear sense of what NYCHA is doing to rectify the situation. When I met with NYCHA officials last week, I underscored the urgent need for the authority to resolve this crisis and was assured that NYCHA's public silence does not reflect the authority's significant investment of time and energy on this matter. I look forward to and am anxious for NYCHA's swift disclosure of and action upon its plan.

Certainly today's hearing can only help to focus NYCHA and all levels and branches of government on what must be done for those affected by the defunding of these vouchers as well as how we can prevent such a catastrophe in the future. I thank the Public Housing and General Welfare Committees of the New York City Council and I pledge to continue to work with you to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to stable housing.

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