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Testimony of Urban Resource Institute Before The New York State Assembly Standing Committees on Housing and Cities – Assessing Affordable Housing Needs Across New York State & Various Approaches and Solutions

December 18, 2023

Good morning. My name is Wilfredo Lopez, Senior Director of Government Affairs at Urban Resource Institute (URI). I would like to thank the Chairs, Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal and Assembly Member Edward Braunstein and the esteemed members of the Committees on Housing and Cities for the opportunity to present testimony to help assess affordable housing needs across New York State and various approaches and solutions.

URI is the largest provider of domestic violence shelter services in the country, in addition to being a leading provider of transitional housing to families experiencing homelessness. URI is committed to ending cycles of violence and homelessness by providing trauma-informed and client-centered support to the families in our care. In addition to transitional housing, URI helps families to achieve economic wellness, we work with youth and in communities to interrupt cycles of violence and we are committed to engaging people who have caused harm in the solutions to end that violence.

On any given night, URI provides temporary housing to approximately 3,000 people in the safety of one of our temporary homes. Each year, we provide services to tens of thousands of people who have experienced homelessness or violence.

Domestic violence is among the leading causes of homelessness in New York City. A report by the New York City Comptroller’s Office found that a staggering 41% of families entering the homeless shelter system were fleeing domestic violence, a significant increase over the previous five years. The report underscored the urgent need for targeted policy interventions to provide survivors with access to stable housing and support, emphasizing that addressing domestic violence is essential in tackling the city’s broader homelessness crisis. More than four years later, domestic violence is still a leading cause of homelessness and survivors still lack adequate access to stable housing.

URI’s vision for a future free from gender-based poverty and homelessness hinges on the creation of supportive housing tailored to meet the specific needs of survivors of violence and trauma. Recognizing that safe and stable permanent housing is a necessary precondition to healing, URI emphasizes the importance of developing living spaces that not only shelter but also empower those affected by violence. URI’s transitional housing sites are purpose-built and trauma-informed: every building decision, from the color of the paint to the furniture we use, and the design of the common spaces is all focused on encouraging safety, stability and healing.

Providers like URI require the support of its partners in government to develop permanent supportive housing designed to meet the needs of survivors of violence and their families.

URI is supportive of programs that will make it easier for people to access permanent affordable and supportive housing. The Housing Access Voucher Program (HAVP) A4021A (Rosenthal)/S568B (Kavanaugh) is a groundbreaking initiative designed to tackle homelessness in New York by establishing a statewide Section 8-style rental subsidy for low-income families and individuals at risk of homelessness due to factors like eviction, domestic violence, or unsafe living conditions. HAVP stands out for its inclusivity, extending eligibility to undocumented people, people with prior felony convictions, and those with no income, groups that are often excluded from traditional housing assistance programs.

URI actively champions the construction of supportive and permanent housing in transit-rich areas, recognizing the profound impact of location on the well-being and recovery of individuals affected by homelessness and domestic violence. By focusing on areas with robust transportation options and accessible community infrastructure, URI ensures that residents have easy access to vital wrap around services, such as healthcare, education, and employment opportunities. This strategic approach not only facilitates the daily lives of residents but also fosters a sense of community and connection, crucial elements for long-term stability and empowerment.

Further, URI advocates for increased funding for the conversion of commercial and hotel properties into housing, recognizing this as a viable solution to address the urgent need for affordable living spaces. URI hopes that transforming underutilized commercial and hotel buildings into residential units will rapidly increase the availability of safe and stable housing for individuals and families affected by homelessness and violence. This approach not only provides immediate shelter options but also contributes to the revitalization of communities, making efficient use of existing structures in urban environments.

Moreover, URI strongly supports the expansion of favorable tax treatment for nonprofit developers engaged in the creation of affordable and supportive housing. By advocating for enhanced financial incentives, URI aims to stimulate the development of more housing projects that are specifically tailored to meet the needs of those experiencing homelessness and domestic violence. This strategic backing of tax credit enhancements empowers nonprofit developers, enabling them to invest more effectively in vital housing initiatives and contribute significantly to the alleviation of housing crises in communities.

In conclusion, URI plays a vital role in addressing the intertwined issues of domestic violence and homelessness in New York State. Through our dedicated efforts in providing trauma-informed, client-centered support, and specialized housing, we aim to break the cycles of violence and homelessness. Our commitment extends beyond just providing temporary shelter; we actively advocate for the development of permanent, affordable, and supportive housing, support innovative programs like HAVP, and champion funding for conversions of underutilized properties into housing solutions. We also emphasize the need for government partnership and policy changes to expand tax credits for nonprofit housing developers. These multi-faceted approaches are crucial for not only sheltering but also empowering our clients, fostering community integration, and ultimately driving systemic change to ensure safe, stable, and dignified living conditions for all New Yorkers affected by these critical issues.

Thank you for holding this hearing on this important topic, we hope to continue working with the members of the legislature to achieve the solutions discussed here today.


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