With a growing homeless crisis in the city, New York State is sitting on roughly $2 billion in housing funds that have yet to be released. Zack Fink filed the following report.
For state lawmakers representing the city of New York, any funds the state can provide for supportive housing could at least help start to alleviate the homeless problem.
"Right now we have the worst homeless crisis since the Great Depression," said Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi of Queens. "And even worse, the trend continues to grow."
And state money is actually available. $2 billion in housing funds were approved by the legislature last year. But ever since, state leaders have been squabbling over how to spend it.
"I think we are very close to where the governor is. And I think most people would expect that. He's a Democrat. We are Democrats," said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. "We still look forwward to having the agreement. And we are all anxious to see it released because some good things can be done with that money."
After Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders couldn't reach an agreement last year, Cuomo unilaterally signed a memorandum of understanding to release the funds in September. But the two legislative leaders, who would also have to sign the memo as well, were not parties to the agreement, known as an MOU.
Nevertheless, earlier this month, Cuomo blamed the legislature.
"Neither the Assembly nor the Senate have agreed to move the funds forward. Today, I call on them to advance this historic plan," he said on January 9.
"The idea that the legislature is at fault is absurd," Hevesi said. "First, we shouldn't be in an MOU process at all if the governor was able to get it done in last year's budget. Then, we could have done it at the end of session. He wasn't able to get an agreement."
Meanwhile, advocates for the homeless are getting frustrated now that it is several weeks into the new legislative session and still no action.
Heastie says he is committed to releasing the funds but does not agree with Cuomo's characterization about why they haven't been.
"No, it wasn't our fault," he said.
Earlier this month, Cuomo said Senate Republicans were unwilling to sign off on the MOU releasing the funds until a replacement could be found for a lucrative tax break for developers known as 421-a. The governor has a plan for that as well, but legislative leaders have yet to endorse it.