Searching for Equity in Supportive Housing

We’re proud to call RUPCO a partner in addressing the affordable housing gap in New York’s Hudson River Valley, but equitable funding for Supportive Housing is a concern all across the state. We’re sharing the text of this guest column because it’s not just an issue of interest to subscribers to the Kingston Freeman.

Guest Column: A simple state change will bring equity to supportive housing in Kingston

January 10, 2024 at 3:22 p.m.

By Kevin O’Connor, CEO of RUPCO

The 40 residents of The Stuyvesant in the Stockade District have a lot of needs. To be eligible to live in the historic building that was converted to supportive housing, individuals must be either formerly homeless and coping with a disabling condition, or elderly. Some are both. As a result, they require assistance with everything from managing their physical and behavioral care to activities of daily living to transportation to making end-of-life plans. For more than a decade, a single caseworker has handled all these needs – and more – because The Stuyvesant is supported by a chronically underfunded state program that hasn’t seen a significant increase since its creation some 40 years ago.

Allison, who prefers her last name not be disclosed, is The Stuyvesant residents’ lifeline. She refuses to leave them, turning down promotions and a bigger paycheck to stay by their side. Though Allison’s fierce loyalty and work ethic are laudatory, having a single case manager handle an entire building of vulnerable and aging adults is clearly not sustainable. But hiring more staff is not possible, because The Stuyvesant is funded through the antiquated New York State Supportive Housing Program (NYSSHP).

Meanwhile, across town at Landmark Place, another RUPCO supportive housing residence with 35 formerly homeless and elderly individuals, there are two case managers – one a behavioral specialist, the other a licensed practical nurse – plus 24-hour front desk staff, and two part-time bus drivers.

What’s the difference? Landmark Place is funded by the 2016 Empire State Supportive Housing Initiative (ESSHI), which pays up to $25,000 per unit to cover both services and rental assistance, compared to NYSSHP’s $2,736 with no dedicated rental assistance Statewide, some 9,000 supportive housing units supported solely by NYSSHP. Their tenants are in the same boat as The Stuyvesant’s residents.

A logical and cost-effective solution exists. The governor and state lawmakers must include a plan in the upcoming state budget to convert the 9,000 endangered NYSSHP units to ESSHI. The first year of a five-year phased-in conversion approach would cost just $32 million. That’s a small fraction of the annual multibillion-dollar state budget, but an investment that would more than pay for itself over time by avoiding the high cost of adding to the homeless population. It would protect 9,000 desperately needed deeply affordable housing from going offline, protecting 9,000 of our most marginalized neighbors from potentially becoming homeless yet again. And Allison could have a less-than-Herculean workload.

At a time when New York is facing multiple crises – affordability, mental health, deadly opioids – it cannot afford to lose a single unit of supportive housing, which has been proven to be one of the most effective tools to combat chronic homelessness. Some of The Stuyvesant’s residents, if unable to age in place, likely would eventually require nursing home care – at a significant cost to the state.

The lack of an increase in NYSSHP rates has left nonprofits like ours scrambling to find alternate funding sources to make ends meet. But even through fundraising and grants, which take time and energy to secure, many nonprofits have been forced to do more with less. That includes being unable to offer competitive salaries to our hardworking staff, which makes it difficult to retain our workforce and contributes to a labor shortage exacerbated by the COVID crisis. The Stuyvesant’s residents deserve the same benefits their Landmark counterparts have. I’d like to hire another case manager to share Allison’s load – and a behavior specialist, and bus drivers, and front desk staff. The entire population of a single building shouldn’t have to depend on the health and well-being of just one person. I don’t want to think about what we’d do without her.

The truth is that not every nonprofit has an Allison, and the state shouldn’t perpetuate such an unbalanced and untenable system. The governor and state lawmakers need to do the right thing this budget season by converting the at-risk NYSSHP units to ESSHI. Everyone – supportive housing tenants and staff alike – will be better off for it.