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Homeless advocates say 1 year of funding is not enough


Some homeless advocates are dismayed by what they say is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s failure at the end of the legislative session to follow through with promises to fund five years of new supportive housing and other services for the homeless. Their complaints come as the state comptroller recently issued a scathing report on the state of homeless shelters across New York.

The comptroller audited over 400 shelters overseen or administered by the governor’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, and found that many homeless shelters outside New York City “are in substandard condition with numerous health and safety issues that need to be addressed immediately.”

The report finds issues including fire and safety violations, bug and mold infestations, and in one case, a dead rat. The comptroller also finds that the Cuomo administration relies too heavily on often deficient hotels and motels to house the homeless.

Cuomo and his aides did not immediately respond, but ironically, Cuomo himself requested the audit, during his State of the State message back in January.

“The state’s obligation to the needy goes beyond empty guarantees and is intended to be a social obligation, “ Cuomo said in his speech. “And we will honor it.”

In the January 13th speech, the governor said shelters found to be unsafe would be closed, and ones with major problems would be bid out to new contractors. Cuomo also proposed a $10 billion effort over five years to fight homelessness, with 20,000 new beds and supportive housing units over the next 15 years.

In March, the completed state budget included a plan for 6,000 new beds over the next five years, with $1.9 billion allocated, which Cuomo aides say is the first phase of the 15-year commitment. But, in the memorandum of understanding between Cuomo and legislative leaders, which is required to commit the funds to specific projects, only the first year of the program was covered.

Advocates for the homeless, call it a betrayal. They protested outside the governor’s New York City offices, chanting “80,000 homeless what are you going to do?”

They say in the end, just $150 million new funding was allocated. The Cuomo administration says the total is $470 million, when other sources are counted.

Laura Mascuch, with the Supportive Housing Network of New York, says knowing the long-term funding is important for planning. Her organization is part of a coalition of groups known as the Campaign 4 New York Housing.

“We are very disappointed that we don’t have a multiyear, five-year agreement to get all 6,000 units done,” Mascuch says. “Because supportive housing isn’t done year by year.”

Mascuch says investors who will put up the money to build the new housing, and who are also part of the coalition, say they need more than a one-year commitment, because it takes a while to get the new units up and running.

A spokeswoman for Cuomo, in a statement, insists the five-year program for 6,000 units is still on track, and accused the housing groups of having an unspecified political agenda.

Cuomo has been feuding with his rival, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, on several issues, including who is doing more to combat homelessness.

Dale Zuchlewski, who heads up the Homeless Alliance of Western New York and is on Cuomo’s recently formed task force on homelessness, says he would have preferred that all five years of the funding be committed now, but says he can work with a one-year agreement.

“Naturally, everyone would want the full five commitment,” said Zuchlewski. “But if we can only get a one year, we’ll take what we can get.”

He says he’s already received interested in supportive housing projects since the governor and the legislative leaders signed the memorandum, and says some investors are “chomping at the bit” to begin.

He says as many as 150 new units are currently being discussed. But he says he understands why the New York City advocates, where the homeless problem is on a much larger scale, might be more concerned with the lack of a full five-year agreement.

Mascuch has not given up hope on still getting the five-year commitment in writing. She says since the $1.9 billion was already voted on and approved in the budget, the legislature does not have to return to vote in order for Cuomo and the legislative leaders to write up a new memo covering the full five years.

Zuchlewski says homeless advocates need to lobby state legislators to get them to commit to a bigger plan before Election Day.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.