New York lawmakers are once again considering legislation aimed at helping formerly incarcerated people get a place to live, The New York Times reported. A similar bill was rejected last year by the Governor’s office during budget negotiations.
The bill, known as the Housing Access Voucher Program, would provide assistance to people affected by high-rent costs, which contributes to homelessness, evictions, and recidivism.
“They should be allowed to apply for various resources in advance of their release date so they get a chance of not going from prison to shelter,” said Democratic State Sen. Brian Kavanagh, who reintroduced the bill.
Kevin Brooks, convicted in 1999 of murder, is one person who could benefit from this bill upon his release, said John Lennon, the author of The Times article, who is currently incarcerated. Brooks has been disciplinary free and obtained a bachelor’s degree while incarcerated. Yet he is likely to join thousands of other formerly incarcerated people who will leave prison and have nowhere to live.
Before he was arrested, Brooks was renting a small New York City apartment for $800 per month. That same space currently goes for around $3,000 a month.
People being released from prison don’t have much assistance, which can drive them back to crime to survive. Those with lifetime sex-offender status, those previously convicted of drug charges in housing programs that are federally funded, and those where there is a “preponderance of evidence” of crime activity, are all excluded from receiving or applying for federal Section 8 housing subsidies.
The proposed bill would provide vouchers to people in immediate need of housing assistance, whether they are homeless, facing eviction, or are about to be released from state prisons.
Kavanagh said he expects the legislation to pass. “What’s unusual is that the large real estate interests of New York have been quite active in supporting this,” he said.
However, there are critics. Howard Husock, a senior fellow in domestic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a center-right think tank, questioned the fairness of making vouchers more accessible to people getting out of prison.
“There will be a limited number of vouchers. We don’t want justice-involved persons in competition with poor New Yorkers,” Husock said.
Husock claimed reentry programs and transitional housing were more appropriate. However, such beds are already scarce and are often only temporary in duration. Currently, such programs are typically the only housing resource available to people getting out of prison in New York.
Brooks noted that a reentry program is his only hope.
“I just want to get out, land a gig, and find a spot to live,” Brooks said.
If Kavanagh’s bill passes, people like Brooks will have a lot more options for stable housing and fresh start.