Council Members and Advocates Call on New York State to Support Survivors of Domestic Violence

FEPS State rental assistance helps prevent homelessness and transition homeless families from shelters, but unfairly excludes those fleeing Domestic Violence

NEW YORK – Today, a coalition including Council Members Stephen Levin, Laurie Cumbo, Helen Rosenthal, and Brad Lander called on Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to help New Yorkers who lack stable housing by passing legislation that would expand eligibility for the Family Eviction Prevention Subsidy (FEPS) and fully fund the FEPS rental assistance program. FEPS is a housing subsidy provided by New York State to help prevent evictions and reduce homelessness by providing rental subsidies to families in need. 
 
Council Members Laurie Cumbo and Helen Rosenthal, Co-Chairs of the Women's Caucus, Stephen Levin, Chair of the General Welfare Committee, and Brad Lander announced support for new legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi that would expand FEPS eligibility to include survivors of domestic violence, and increase the maximum rental assistance available to households in the program.

FEPS can be used to retain a current apartment or to move to a new one, but wrongly excludes families that are forced to flee from their homes as a result of domestic violence. Currently to be eligible, a family must be sued for nonpayment of rent, have been evicted, or live in housing that is subject to a current vacate order or foreclosure.
 
The coalition also called on New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and State Legislative leaders to not delay further and sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) this week to fully fund FEPS and pass legislation that will expand FEPS eligibility. If New York State were to invest $8M in the FEPS program, the City and Federal Governments would commit $55M in matching funds. 
 
“Domestic violence is one of the most common causes of homelessness and it is imperative that it is a priority of our State government to provide vulnerable families safe and stable shelter,” said Council Member Stephen Levin, Chair of the General Welfare Committee. “I applaud Assemblyman Hevesi’s critical legislation to rightly allow survivors of domestic violence to qualify for rental assistance and call on Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature to take immediate action to ensure those impacted by family and intimate partner violence have the support they need to move forward.” 
 
“Women and children who are victims of domestic violence are at their most vulnerable in the first days and weeks after losing their home. The first step to getting them back on their feet is putting a roof over their head,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Co-Chair of the Women’s Caucus. “Victims of domestic violence end up in our homeless shelters, and the easy fix is Assemblyman Hevesi's legislation. I urge the Senate and the Governor to pass this legislation. Providing housing subsidies will get victims of domestic violence on the road to stability.”
 
“No one should have to choose between a perpetual cycle of violence or homelessness,” said Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo, Co-Chair of the Women’s Caucus. “With over 60,000 homeless New Yorkers, most of whom are women and children, it is our collective responsibility to protect the most vulnerable population and provide them with a pathway towards independence. We must face facts – domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families and intimate partner violence is the leading cause of female homicide. In order to save lives and end homelessness, we must invest in programs that provide supportive services such as rental assistance. I urge Governor Cuomo and the New York State legislature to expand the eligibility criteria of the Family Eviction Prevention Subsidy to include survivors of domestic violence who deserve equal treatment and an opportunity to rebuild their lives.”
 
With expanded eligibility and increased subsidy levels for FEPS, roughly 1,600 additional households could avoid or end homelessness in just one year. 
 
The legislation introduced by the Chairman of the Assembly Social Services Committee, Andrew Hevesi would also authorize a municipality to provide a total rent allowance up to the Section 8 rent levels, which are based on fair market rents established by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and average about $1515 per month for a family. The current maximum subsidy allowed by New York State is approximately just $1000, which is too little for the New York City rental market.
 
Nathaniel Fields, President & CEO, Urban Resource Institute said, “We know that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, 2 out of 3 women murdered is because of domestic violence and that the leading cause of homelessness for women and children is domestic violence. As we work together to help survivors get back on their feet, a variety of housing options such as City FEPS are needed so they can secure, safe, permanent housing for themselves and their families.”
 
“Access to safe and stable housing is a major predictor of whether or not a domestic violence survivor succeeds in staying safe and on her own, said Judge Judy Harris Kluger, Executive Director of Sanctuary for Families. “Yet, victims of domestic violence are routinely denied access to State subsidized rental assistance programs – the result of misguided eligibility restrictions.  As one of the State’s largest service providers and advocates for victims of gender violence, Sanctuary for Families is proud to stand with Council Members Stephen Levin, Laurie Cumbo, and Helen Rosenthal and the de Blasio Administration in support of legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi that will fix this unintended loophole. We also urge our leaders in Albany to invest the $8.3 million in critically needed funding in housing programs that will keep vulnerable New Yorkers safe and alive.” 
 
“As the nation’s leading victim assistance organization, Safe Horizon is proud to stand with Council Members Cumbo, Levin and Rosenthal to urge State lawmakers to make needed changes to FEPS eligibility and funding levels.  It is critically important that survivors of domestic violence and their families are able to access safe, affordable housing as quickly as possible,” said Michael Polenberg, Vice President of Government Affairs, Safe Horizon. “Assembly Member Hevesi’s legislation will help increase these options and allow many survivors to bypass shelter and relocate directly into housing.  We commend Assembly Member Hevesi for his efforts and call on the full legislature to send this bill to the Governor without further delay.”
 
“Families fleeing domestic violence, like those facing eviction, need help with securing stable housing and avoiding homelessness. The State must step up and permit programs that are already in place to serve the most vulnerable families so they can exit the shelter system and back on their feet,” said Judith Goldiner, Attorney in Charge, Civil Law Reform, The Legal Aid Society.