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Upstate New York counties block NYC rental vouchers

The skyline of midtown Manhattan
Ted Shaffrey
The skyline of midtown Manhattan

New York City has expanded its rental vouchers program to extend beyond the city limits.

Some Southern Tier counties, including Broome, Chemung and Schuyler counties, have issued emergency orders blocking the use of those vouchers.

WSKG’s Brent Fox spoke with WNYC’s housing reporter, David Brand, about the program’s expansion.

Brent Fox: So what is CityFHEPS and who uses it?

David Brand: CityFEHPS is a rental assistance program for low income New Yorkers, who have to qualify based on their income. Most of the time, they are also qualified because they're living in homeless shelters or at risk of becoming homeless facing eviction. And so they get this rent subsidy and it pays the majority of their rent. New York City pays that, they pay no more than 30% of their income toward rent. So this is kind of the same as Section 8 and other rental assistance programs that are available throughout the country and throughout the state.

BF: And why would New York City start paying rent for people to live outside of New York City?

DB: We have an extreme housing shortage here in New York City. And that's especially true at the lowest end of the housing market. So every few years, the housing and vacancy survey is performed here in New York City, and the most recent one showed that fewer than 1% of apartments priced below $1,500 a month were vacant. There's a lot of people who need apartments and not a lot of apartments to go around.

So this is giving people the opportunity to go elsewhere in the state and find housing. This is the kind of explaining this to people who maybe they're working outside the city or they have family, or they even come from areas outside New York City and then they come to New York City, become homeless or find it very hard to afford rent. Maybe they get a setback, especially during or immediately after the COVID pandemic. And so this is giving people an opportunity to find housing elsewhere.

BF: A lot of counties in upstate New York are passing measures to block the use of these vouchers. Why do you feel update leaders are upset about this new expansion of this program?

DB: Well, I think there's a couple of things going on. So first of all, I think people are worried about a big surge of low-income New York City residents coming to their communities and what that might, the kind of strain that might have on social services or I guess the community itself. I mean, I think some of that is underpinned by discrimination, racism, classism, and we can't ignore that component of it.

I think there are some good faith concerns as well. You know, the housing crisis in New York City is not an issue that's unique to New York City. Now we see this throughout the state. So I also think some leaders and some, some elected officials are worried about if people are coming here, that's going to make our housing shortage even more acute, and there's going to be even more competition.

BF: If the landlords in these counties are allowed to accept these vouchers. What would these upstate counties expect?

DB: That's a great question. I think there's a lot of fear mongering and a lot of concern about a surge or influx of people coming from New York City to upstate communities. And there kind of is a precedent for this type of move right now. In New York City, it has another type of voucher program that will pay the rent for an entire year on behalf of families or individuals leaving homeless shelters who can demonstrate they'll be able to pay their rent moving forward.

BF: And what does that mean as far as numbers?

DB: Well, I think that's the big question is how many people are actually going to use this new opportunity to move outside of New York City. I've been talking to a lot of people who have the vouchers. And people who are interested in actually trying to find housing outside of New York City are already, who are already from outside New York City have lived there in the past, who have family ties, or even are working outside the city.

And so one woman in particular, she's been working in Suffolk County. She lives in Brooklyn and she travels by Long Island Railroad, like a four-hour round trip every day to get to her job at a health care facility. And she said she would consider looking for an apartment outside the city, probably on Long Island closer to her job. But I think those are the situations where we will see people actually consider using the vouchers outside the city and for the most part, I think people live in New York City want to stay here.

Has been working in public media since 2018. Was a multimedia producer at WNIT in South Bend, Indiana before making his way back to the New York.