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Housing Subsidies: Difficult to Impossible To Get

Written By: Melissa Lopez-Robles, B.B.A. – Housing Specialist

A housing subsidy is a form of economic assistance sponsored by the government. It is aimed towards alleviating housing costs and expenses for needy people with very low or low to moderate income. This is also known as “Affordable Housing”. Although subsidies are in place it is more than impossible to receive one. Some of these subsidies are in place to assist people who are chronically homeless in shelters: but there is no way around it; the wait is extreme.
There are a few Housing options that exist in Westchester County:

  1. Municipal Housing Authority: Publicly funded and administered for low-income families.
  2. The Olmstead Housing Subsidy (OHS): Pilot program to establish a rental subsidy and transitional housing support for high-need Medicaid beneficiaries.
  3. Nursing Home Transition and Diversion (NHTD): Medicaid in combination with State funds provides supports to individuals with disabilities and seniors toward successful inclusion in the community.
  4. Section 8 Project Based: Voucher is connected to a specific building and cannot be transferred.
  5. Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program: Voucher used to rent any private apartment that meets program guidelines.
  6. Westhab’s Rental Assistance Program (RAP) through Department of Social Services (DSS): Helps low income working families facing eviction or homeless. They provide several subsidies such as the Homeless Prevention and Rehousing Program (HPRP): Provides rent subsidies up to 18 months.
  7. Single Point of Access (SPOA): Connects people with serious mental illness to services that can accommodate them including Housing.
  8. The Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA): Housing assistance to persons living with HIV/AIDS and their families who are currently living in apartments and are facing eviction.

At a recent Westchester Disabled on the Move’s (WDOMI) Housing Forum, Ms. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, NYS Special Advisor for Policy and Community Renewal & Former New York State Senator stated- “The need for people with disabilities does not get better, it gets worse, particularly because too often the persons with disabilities, their needs are not taken into consideration when development happens”.

Although it seems that there is flexibility of options for rental subsidies, they are not easy to obtain. Most subsidies for low-income families are closed. Some have waiting lists for seniors or people with disabilities such as Municipal Housing, and Section 8 project based, but their waiting lists are long. When you call CVR-Section 8 project based and ask about the current wait time, you are told “the wait is 3 to 5 years”. Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers are closed and their current waiting list is unbelievably long, with people waiting for a voucher for over 10 years. Westhab also has a long waiting list and you must have resided in a shelter atleast for 24 hours in order to get in. Even with being in a shelter you cannot get immediate assistance from Westhab through DSS.

DSS regulations are complex and may seem arbitrary: either you earn too much money, or you do not have children or you are not working and don’t qualify. OHS has criteria you must follow to be approved for the subsidy, you must have spent at least 120 days in a nursing home consecutively within the last two years and you must search for an apartment with the assistance of a Housing Specialist. NHTD also has its process and it’s not easy to obtain a subsidy in a day or two or in a week or two. Another obstacle that does not help with these subsidies is that there is a severe lack of affordable and accessible housing in Westchester County and many landlords are reluctant to rent to Section 8 recipients. While it is illegal to reject a tenant solely because they are on Section 8 or benefits, many landlords still find a way around the law.

At a recent Westchester Disabled on the Move’s (WDOMI) Housing Forum, Ms. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, NYS Special Advisor for Policy and Community Renewal & Former New York State Senator stated- “The need for people with disabilities does not get better, it gets worse, particularly because too often the persons with disabilities, their needs are not taken into consideration when development happens”.

How can we say that subsidies are available if they are impossible to obtain? This is not accurate. Homeless people on SSI cannot get assistance because subsidies and vouchers are so difficult to obtain.

Let’s compare the following two scenarios I have experienced as a Housing Specialist:

  • Family #1, two adults with four children, one adult works fulltime earning about $20,000 a year and DSS pays their $1,300 rent in full.
  • Family #2, two adults 1 child, family being evicted, one adult working getting minimum wage earning less than $15,000 a year, while the other adult is a SSI recipient earning below $750 a month; yet this family is refused rental assistance.

You would assume that’s where the second family would be considered for the Homeless Prevention and Rehousing Program subsidy. According to our consumer, DSS stated “well your income is lower than your rent, you do not qualify”.

Getting approved for any Housing subsidies is a challenge. Someone with no family support and no proper identification won’t benefit from the Olmstead Housing Subsidy, although they could be an excellent candidate. For someone with a mental illness, they would apply to SPOA. But what reassurances do they have, when Westchester County has over 300 applicants with a 3 year minimum wait, then what? What connections are available for people with serious mental illness, how can they be accommodated if they also have to wait for housing help?
With our current administration in Washington, existing subsidies will likely start disappearing. Although there is also a high shortage in housing itself, funding is being cut severely. The Office of Community Renewal administers the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program for the State of New York and it is one of the grants being cut by Washington. The CDBG program for most of the state financial assistance to eligible cities, towns, and villages with populations under 50,000 and counties with an area population under 200,000, to develop viable communities by providing decent, affordable housing, and suitable living environments, as well as expanding economic opportunities, for persons of low and moderate income. Yonkers CDBG financially assists WDOMI. This is one ways we are able to assist people with disabilities.

How are we or any one in dire need supposed to live? People can’t enjoy life or buy something to improve their quality of life because their last bit of income received goes straight to their basic living expenses especially their rent. What then? What now? What more can be done to help?

Federal funding SHOULD NOT be cut as subsidies for building and maintaining accessible and affordable housing rely on these funds. New innovative programs are our only chance. Due to WDOMI’s advocacy, Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano, many City Council Members, and the Yonkers Department of Planning and Development, implemented a unique amendment to Yonkers Affordable Housing Ordinance, effective December 1, 2016. This amendment is a policy to set-aside 10% of all affordable units for persons with mobility and/or sensory impairments. We are hoping to spread this model throughout Westchester County.

We should all work together to help others understand this dire need. People complain but don’t advocate. It is part of WDOMI’s mission to build an understanding of what people with disabilities or low income families need; more accessible and affordable housing in Westchester County.

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