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Milton Perez has spent years in New York’s shelter system, often sleeping in dormitory-style rooms with up to 20 other people and just three or four feet of space on either side of his bed. Last May, as part of the city’s emergency response to the Covid-19 pandemic, he moved into a hotel in Brownsville, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, where he now has one roommate and quite a bit more space. Then in June, he secured a housing voucher through a program called CityFHEPS, short for Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement.
Theoretically that voucher would allow him to find an apartment on the private market. But the maximum rent it covers is so limited — $1,265 a month for a single person — that Perez has been unable to put the voucher to use. The median rent in New York is $2,600, according to StreetEasy; the only apartments that rent for as low as $1,265 a month are the ones that developers of new buildings are required to set aside for low-income tenants, Perez says, and those units are still scarce. In fact, according to a report in City Limits, only 4-5% of voucher recipients are able to secure an apartment.
“If you’re lucky enough to find a low-income [unit], you won the lottery,” Perez says.
Last year, Perez began working with the group VOCAL-NY on a campaign to get the city to raise the amount of rent that the CityFHEPS program would cover. VOCAL-NY and a coalition of housing and homelessness groups pushed to get the city to match the subsidies in the federal Section 8 voucher program, which covers up to $1,945 a month for a single person in New York. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio reportedly said he wouldn’t support the effort until the state committed to raising the limits on its own version of the vouchers, which have separate eligibility requirements. But advocates say they’ve had a veto-proof majority of the city council in support of the bill for months. And in May, the council finally voted to approve the bill, known as Intro 146, by a vote of 46-2.