Opinion: New York housing programs shouldn’t exclude immigrants

One New York state assemblymember is introducing a bill that would help keep families out of overcrowded shelters, terrible conditions and in homes, regardless of their immigration status. The bill should be passed.

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Samson Tu

(Samson Tu for WSN)

Blake Salesin, Staff Writer

Many of the families staying at The Hotel Wolcott on West 31st Street in Manhattan’s Midtown are not in the Big Apple for a holiday vacation. They aren’t some of the thousands of tourists walking the streets in search of trendy restaurants, spending their cash on overpriced drinks and tourist attractions. Rather, they are asylum seekers being housed in one of New York City’s humanitarian relief centers, the latest installment in a repeated effort by Mayor Eric Adams and the city to properly house the city’s rising immigrant population. 

Currently, across the five boroughs, there are somewhere around 57 hotels being used as what the city calls emergency shelters. In an attempt to alleviate stress on the already-ravaged homeless shelter system in the city, the hotels aim to provide a roof for the over 21,000 asylum seekers that have entered city limits since last spring. 

But the increase in temporary housing for immigrants comes with a hefty price tag. The estimated cost in 2021 for the city to house a single adult was $138 and for a family with children, $198. In all, the city spent about $3 billion last year on homeless services alone. With the coupled effect of inflation and increasing migration, that price likely grew. 

Every facet of the homelessness system in New York is under stress, but the city can only do so much to increase the number of sheltered rooms. Families who are already living in the shelters are being forced to live in worse conditions as the facilities become overcrowded. Shelters are battling to provide quality accommodations, but with more than 63,000 people sleeping in public facilities each night, supplies have been spread thin. The system is failing and the shelter population is increasing. Public officials are looking for ways to secure permanent housing for vulnerable populations and prevent homelessness in the first place. 

I spoke to New York State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, one of the public officials looking to provide New York City’s immigrant population with greater access to public housing programs. Rosenthal, who represents Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Midtown West, is currently the Chair of the Social Services Committee and has been concerned for some time with the legal barriers to providing adequate social services.

In an effort to open doors for immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, Rosenthal has introduced Assembly Bill A10510, which aims to prevent homelessness and relieve some shelter stress. 

“The bill would amend the social service law to allow individuals within the city of New York to be eligible for the Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement,” Rosenthal said in a phone interview. During our conversation, Rosenthal pointed out that it makes no sense for homeless prevention techniques to exclude immigrants, who make up a significant portion of that population.

Currently, under federal law, undocumented persons are prohibited from receiving a vast majority of state services, but some states deem undocumented persons eligible for certain, public state-funded benefits. Rosenthal’s bill would provide such eligibility to undocumented families and individuals and give the untold number of undocumented immigrants in the city access to the FHEPS program. That would allow them services like rent supplements and security vouchers, which would guarantee that the Human Resources Administration would pay one month of rent if the tenant was unable to. 

“The bill is something both the state and city wants,” said Rosenthal during our call on Friday afternoon. “We worked last year in conjunction with The Legal Aid Society to pass legislation that increased the number of vouchers given out — now we need to increase the number of those eligible to receive that help.”

Bill A10510 was introduced in May and will be addressed when the New York Assembly meets again in January. There, it would need approval by the Social Services Committee and an Assembly vote before moving forward. Rosenthal made it clear that the bill must be passed quickly if we are to move fast in addressing the homelessness crisis.

New York City and Mayor Adams have received valid criticism recently for other new policy initiatives regarding mental illness. Guest essayist Leann Beard wrote for WSN that the mayor’s new policy on untreated mental illness in unhoused populations is an attempt to reduce visible poverty, while not actually doing anything to address homelessness and mental illness itself. 

If New York wants to seriously address the homelessness crisis, it must prioritize preventing homelessness in the first place. It must increase the amount of security vouchers given out yearly, as well as providing rent supplements to families at risk of eviction. Addressing the barriers that prohibit a large number of immigrants from benefiting from housing programs like FHEPS is an adequate foundation for distributing more assistance. 

 

Beyond Bill A10510, the state and city must look to tackle greater issues that are the root causes of homelessness, like the lack of affordable housing. The approval and commitment to term projects like such will be instrumental in addressing the continued increase of immigrants looking to find a home in New York City.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Blake Salesin at [email protected]