More than 130 groups rally for supportive housing agreement

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A man moves into an affordable housing unit. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
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More than 130 groups rallied outside City Hall on Thursday to call for a new agreement between the city and state to build 30,000 units of supportive housing for the homeless.

The goal of building more affordable homes that offer support to vulnerable populations—such as those with disabilities—is a goal articulated in Mayor Bill de Blasio's ambitious housing plan. But advocates said the need to act soon is critical because the current supportive housing agreement, known as New York/NewYork III, is set to expire next year.

“Supportive housing is the most successful social intervention of the last quarter century,” Ted Houghton, the executive director of Supportive Housing Network of New York, said in an interview after the rally. “It really not only improves people's lives, it strengthens communities and it saves taxpayers money. Despite all the success, we now have a situation where the development pipeline—our ability to build new units of supportive housing, to help the 53,000 people who are homeless every night in New York City, people who are institutionalized, people who are just high-cost users of the health system—our ability to build more units for those vulnerable populations is in jeopardy because we need a new city-state agreement to create a target for how many more units we're going to build and how we're going to pay for it.”

De Blasio's housing plan, which calls for the creation of 80,000 new units of affordable housing over the next decade, says the city will see the NY/NY III agreement through to its completion. The agreement, which took affect in 2005, sets the goal of creating about 9,000 supportive housing units for households where a member suffers from severe mental illness, substance use disorders, HIV/AIDS or other disabling medical conditions. The mayor's plan says that agreement, and the two that came before it, were “groundbreaking collaborative commitments,” but that more must be done.

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“The demand for supportive housing today far outstrips the available supply,” the housing plan reads in part. “Building upon the lessons learned and successes from prior partnerships and agreements, the city will seek to expand the production of supportive housing. Supportive housing is a critical ingredient in helping households in need of additional services succeed in stable environments.”

Still, the plan did not commit to creating any specific number of supportive units, though it did call for furthering partnerships between different agencies. Representatives from some of the groups that rallied at city hall said there appears to be a consensus between the de Blasio administration and Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration that there should be a new agreement, but the details are always the hard part.

“It really comes down to a question of dollars and cents,” Houghton said. “And the fact is that we need a big development initiative—something along the lines of 30,000 units—and that does cost money. It will be just the investment that the city and the state need to make, because it will pay off in savings to the healthcare system, to the psychiatric system and various other places. But the fact is you still have to find the money.”