Opinion

With Federal Budget Cuts Looming, Cuomo Must Step up to Fund Housing

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called President Trump’s 2018 budget outline “dangerous, reckless, and insulting to New York values.” In particular, the governor highlighted the disastrous impact the proposed budget cuts would have on affordable housing and community development programs relied upon by communities around the country.

Many New Yorkers share this negative view of President Trump’s proposed budget, but Cuomo is in a position to actually do something about it. The governor must bring the state Senate and Assembly together to negotiate a long-overdue statewide affordable housing plan and create homes for New Yorkers who will be harmed by federal budget cuts for housing. New York has the resources to do this. Now we need the will.

It has been nearly a year since state leaders committed $2 billion for affordable housing across the state through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), but they have yet to release the funds. Now, the pledged funds for programs like supportive housing, public housing, and senior housing in communities that need it most have increased to $2.5 billion, but not a penny of it is available to be spent. With 88,000 people homeless and nearly a million families paying more than half their income in rent each month across the state, the delay is devastating. But the conflicting priorities evident in the one-house bills released this month by the Senate and Assembly show that the stalemate remains and without the governor’s leadership, New Yorkers won’t get relief anytime soon.

The people who directly benefit from affordable housing programs are the backbone of New York. They are educators, police officers, medical aides, maintenance staff and others who work hard, but whose salaries are stretched thin covering not just housing but food, electricity, transportation, medicine and other essential expenses. New York City residents in particular are caught in a crisis that, over the past decade, has seen rent in real dollars increase by 19 percent and income in real dollars decrease by 6 percent – and, without state-supported housing programs that bring those numbers closer together, they will continue to struggle.

Legislative inertia has not only affected individuals and families who are homeless or struggling to pay rent; New York has also missed out on the proven economic benefits of housing programs that save taxpayer dollars, create jobs and generate revenue for the state and local communities. Every 100 affordable homes financed through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program creates approximately 116 local jobs, provides $8.7 million in wages for workers and business profits and $3.3 million in federal, state and local tax revenue. In New York City, supportive housing saves taxpayers $10,000 per tenant per year.

Gov. Cuomo should use his considerable influence to bring the state Senate and the Assembly to the negotiating table with the understanding that developing a comprehensive, long-term statewide housing plan before the April 1 state budget deadline is critical to the wellbeing of our communities. The budget should not link affordable housing programs to roadblocks like the 421-a tax abatement, which the Senate has proposed in its one-house budget, and has no bearing on these programs, and it should not involve yet another unnecessary MOU – a stopgap measure that would freeze funding indefinitely and keep hundreds of thousands of families in limbo.

The clock continues to tick for housing in New York. Without a comprehensive statewide plan, the state will miss out on programs that would create affordable homes for 12,000 families in 2017 alone. New York’s leaders should recognize that with massive proposed cuts at the federal level, no one else is going to come in to save the day when it comes to housing. Gov. Cuomo should make distributing the $2.5 billion for housing a top priority as April 1 approaches. Continued gridlock is no longer an option. New Yorkers are waiting.

Judi Kende is vice president and New York market leader at Enterprise Community Partners. Rachel Fee is executive director of the New York Housing Conference. 

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