As Shelter Population Skyrockets, Cuomo Holds Back Promised Housing

August 25, 2016 -Syracuse, NY - Governor Cuomo kicked off the newly transformed 2016 Great New York State Fair.
August 25, 2016 -Syracuse, NY - Governor Cuomo kicked off the newly transformed 2016 Great New York State Fair.
John Nilsen / Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

As Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio competitively pledged new units of supportive housing to help the city confront its historically high homeless-shelter population, it looked like their stupid feud might actually help NYC for once.

De Blasio promised funding for 15,000 units of supportive housing in 2015, while Cuomo immediately responded by pledging to build 20,000 entirely new units during his state of the state address. All told, it met community demands for at least 35,000 supportive housing units, and advocates walked away satisfied that the two feuding politicians were at least competing over who could create more supportive housing. But as the city’s shelter population surges to record highs once again, it appears that only one politician has kept up their end of the bargain.

According to a new report from the Coalition for the Homeless, Mayor de Blasio has already provided funding towards supportive housing units (both scatter-site and new construction), but Governor Cuomo has yet to fund a single unit of the new housing he promised.

On top of that, Cuomo has refused to fund any scatter-site housing, meaning that even if he does follow through with the $2 billion allocated for the project, it will still be years before anyone is moving into supportive housing that has been funded by the state.

In June, the shelter population reached 14,205, compared with only 11,000 in February of 2013, when the numbers began to dramatically rise.

Coalition for the Homeless
Coalition for the Homeless

The holdup for Cuomo, as always, comes down to a budgetary shell game he’s playing with the state legislature. Before Cuomo can use any of the allocated $2 billion, he needs to execute a Memorandum of Understanding with the legislature (as required by this year’s budget), something he failed to do before the end of the legislative session. So far, the governor and the legislature have only agreed to release $150 million worth of funds, out of the $2 billion allotted to break ground on more than 6,000 units the governor envisioned getting started this year.

"We don’t think MOU’s should even be part of the equation," the author of the report, Giselle Routhier, policy director at Coalition for the Homeless, told the Voice. With housing developers aware that Cuomo has dropped the ball on following through with funding promises before, not a single dollar of the $150 million has been spent. Routhier is certain that it won’t be, and that more supportive housing will not be built by the state until Cuomo actually follows through with his promise.

"The governor made this commitment seven months ago and it was a historic announcement. But here we are now and nothing’s happening. We’re facing record homelessness, and we need these units as quickly as possible."

Cuomo has told advocates not to hold out hope that the MOU will get signed before 2017. Still, his office insists it’s going to happen. Recent history gives supportive housing advocates reasons to be cynical.

In 2014, Cuomo promised to spend millions of dollars on housing from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s record settlement with JP Morgan — only to let the funds languish after subjecting them to another MOU with the legislature. The millions were never spent.

Asked to comment on the report, a spokesperson for the governor, Dani Lever, gave the Voice the same statement she gave the Daily News. "The plan is on track and if that fact is not in this ‘report,’ then that speaks to the credibility of it and its authors," Lever said in the statement.


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