More than 1,200 people turned out for the Supportive Housing Network of New York (SHNNY) Annual Statewide Meeting yesterday. As usual, they were treated to announcements of new programmatic initiatives and upcoming procurements by both New York City and State, as well as in-depth panel discussions about the state of the Supportive Housing sector, including recent successes, current opportunities and potential threats in the not-too-distant future.
At last year’s conference, NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Matthew Wambua announced that the City was “doubling down” on its commitment to Supportive Housing by increasing its goal for the number of units which would go into construction during the current fiscal year from 500 to 1000. “By the end of June, we will be making this commitment a reality,” Wambua said yesterday. “I am extremely proud of that.”
And, to reaffirm this commitment, he announced that within the next few weeks, the City would for the first time issue a Request for Qualifications to prequalify a set of developers for projects to develop at least ten publicly owned sites for use in supportive housing. “This is a multi-boro, multi-site initiative,” said Wambua, noting that several City agencies would be contributing property to the effort, including HPD, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC). The move is an effort to address the growing shortage of available sites available for Supportive Housing, something which advocates and providers have indicated to be a serious obstacle to future developments.
“We are very pleased with HPD’s announcement of the new RFQ for City-owned land,” said Ted Houghton, Executive Director of the Supportive Housing Network. “We think that they are handling that in exactly the right manner and we look forward to working with them to make the development go as quickly as possible and get new units out to the people who need them.”
Not to be outdone, Darryl C. Towns, Commissioner and CEO of NYS Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), followed up with an announcement that HCR was posting a new Request for Proposals for $23.2 million in capital funding for Medicaid Redesign Team (MRT)-related Supportive Housing projects. The RFP was posted on the HCR website yesterday.
In addition to this good news, conference attendees heard ample warnings about potential threats to Supportive Housing, not least of which could come through Sequestration-related cuts to federal Section 8 Housing Vouchers.
Marc Jahr, President of NYC Housing Development Corporation, for example, stated that Section 8 provides a critical future revenue source for projects seeking debt financing. Without Section 8, many projects would no longer be financially viable. “The fate of Section 8 puts at great risk our ability to provide capital,” he said.
“By our calculations, the impact of sequestration on Section 8 will create a $42 million hole in our budget,” said HPD’s Wambua. He explained that to meet this shortfall, the agency would have to shrink the Section 8 program and that it would not be providing new individual Section 8 vouchers until the deficit had been filled. He did note, however, that HPD would meet its commitments to provide project-based Section 8 vouchers for Supportive Housing developments. “We are not looking to claw back existing commitments that have been made,” he said, adding that HPD also planned to continue issuing new project-based contracts going forward…”although we will be doing it judiciously.”
In total, the conference featured 30 separate workshops on a wide range of topics, including implications of Medicaid redesign on Supportive Housing, programs for youth and other special populations, financing mechanisms, facilities management and more.
Svante Myrick, Mayor of Ithaca, delivered the Keynote Address. Myrick, who was elected in 2012 at the age of just 24, reflected on how it was his social service network and the community as a whole that had provided him with the support he needed to achieve this level of success. He encouraged the conference attendees to continue to do the good, hard work that they do, helping the disadvantaged to achieve their own full potential.
“We are really pleased with how the whole day turned out,” said Houghton. “The level of participation shows just how engaged our supportive housing community is.” He also noted the range of groups and representatives participating in the event. “We are seeing people from outside the traditional affordable housing world including groups from mainstream mental health care, private development, green energy and others.”