As New Yorkers protested against racism and police brutality over the past few weeks, the NYPD was caught on video clashing with demonstrators several times: shoving a 20-year-old woman against the pavement, hitting individuals with batons, and driving into a crowd with an SUV.
Meanwhile, the City Council has been in negotiations with the de Blasio administration to set the budget for fiscal year 2021. That, coupled with the nationwide protests against police brutality, has resurfaced calls from advocates to defund the NYPD’s $6 billion budget and invest $1 billion of those funds — to begin with — in social and homeless services, as well as housing.
Following a push from various nonprofits and organizers, the de Blasio administration agreed to move the NYPD away from street-vendor enforcement while allocating some funds from the police department’s budget toward youth and social services. However, details on the specific amount that will be invested have yet to be released, and it’s unclear whether or not some of those funds would go toward parks, homeless services, or housing.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the city was experiencing a housing and homelessness crisis. There are over 60,000 New Yorkers sleeping in shelters every night and more than 3,000 unsheltered New Yorkers, who are predominantly black and Hispanic. And individuals who sleep in subway stations are often targeted by the police (and, at times, given summonses) through the de Blasio administration’s Diversion Program. As several organizations have pointed out, scaling back the NYPD’s presence in homeless outreach could contribute funds to invest in other programs and sorely needed services.
Meanwhile, proposed cuts to the Housing Preservation and Development capital budget will potentially slow down the creation of affordable and supportive housing for low-income New Yorkers in the years to come.
Here, we asked housing and homeless organizers, advocates, and politicians what they would do if $1 billion were taken out of the NYPD’s budget.
Lynden Bond, policy director at Human.nyc
“Decreasing the NYPD budget while removing the NYPD from the front lines of homeless outreach, where it does not belong, could open opportunities to financially invest in crucial resources that would allow New Yorkers experiencing homelessness to obtain and maintain permanent housing.
One specific example would be to increase the value of the CityFHEPS vouchers to fair market rate such that people could actually find apartments within their budget. It could also be used to operate the safe havens and permanent housing the mayor promised for unsheltered homeless New Yorkers.”
Dannelly Rodriguez, organizer and activist with Justice for All Coalition and Queens DSA
“It would be an opportunity to show what could be done if we fully funded NYCHA. The $1 billion could be utilized to jump-start and fund a resident management corporation (RMC) within a couple NYCHA complexes gravely in need of capital repairs. They can serve as a model for re-sorting NYCHA once it is fully funded. RMCs give tenants control over managing their properties, replacing the respective Public Housing [Agency] (PHA).
It is not enough to simply fund NYCHA bureaucrats, because they have a history of mismanagement that has led to the grave disrepair within NYCHA. The tenants are better situated to understand their needs and are directly impacted by these conditions in such a way that incentivizes them to get the repairs done. The way we combat the gross negligence of these communities on behalf of PHAs is by putting its community members at the center of participatory and democratic processes, like the RMC, that would give them autonomy and power to build dignified and quality housing.”
Robert E. Cornegy Jr., City Council member and chair of the council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings
“Community-based organizations play an often unsung role in helping New Yorkers find housing and uphold their rights. From working to help tenants and homeowners connect with resources, to educating on how to navigate housing court, to providing low-interest home-repair loans, there are numerous existing programs and nascent pilot programs that would benefit from further city investment.
For instance, the Basement [Apartment] Conversion Pilot Program, which helps legalize basement apartments and create new affordable-housing units, is an example of a pilot program under threat — with the executive budget proposing a $1.09 million cut, leaving the program just over $90,000. In terms of larger-scale existing programs that could benefit from further investment, Mayor de Blasio’s “Housing New York: A Five-Borough, Ten-Year Plan” has made important progress but still needs to work toward building and preserving housing for the extremely low income and very low income, who are the most rent-burdened New Yorkers.”
Celina Trowell, Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) spokesperson and VOCAL-NY’s homelessness-union organizer.
“Far too many New Yorkers are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic — homeless populations are especially at risk. We must answer the call to address our community’s needs. By investing in supportive housing and permanent affordable housing, we can protect and empower the folks that have been disproportionately impacted by both police brutality and the COVID-19 pandemic. These services are key to dismantling the social disparities that keep our communities segregated and, in turn, fuel and foster abusive policing. Divesting in the NYPD is a key step in creating the public infrastructure and social safety net that will truly prioritize our people.”
Jacquelyn Simone, policy analyst at Coalition for the Homeless
“A billion dollars would certainly go a long way toward meeting the most urgent housing needs, but we do need a sustained investment, that would likely be larger than that, to actually end homelessness in New York. The magnitude of our homelessness crisis is so great right now that we’re spending billions of dollars on more temporary solutions, and we would like to see a greater investment in permanent housing so that we don’t have a shelter system that’s bursting at the seams. So we would like to see more funding invested in the construction of truly affordable apartments for homeless New Yorkers and other people who are extremely low income.
We’re not spending money on the long-term solutions to homelessness as opposed to stopgap solutions, and that’s why we really need to shift our priorities and shift how we are looking at addressing homelessness, not just as a crisis to be managed but as something that can be solved — and we can only solve it with robust investment in permanent affordable housing.”
Christine Quinn, president and CEO of homeless-shelter provider Win and former City Council Speaker
“One, we would, across the board, permanently raise the housing voucher to 100 percent of FMR [fair market rents], if not higher, so the vouchers would be competitive and people could really be able to afford apartments for them and their families; that would be a permanent, ongoing change. Two, we would create a stay-at-home voucher, an emergency voucher grant program that would be targeted for people who the only thing they need is to pay back the rent that they haven’t been able to pay because they haven’t been working — because, once the eviction moratorium is over, I think we’re going to see a [wave of] evictions. We’re going to prevent those people from ending up in shelters if we can offer them onetime stay-at-home vouchers, which would really be more of a grant to them. I think that would make a big, big difference in keeping people in their homes; it’s different, and distinct, than the type of prevention the mayor is doing now, which should keep going.”