Following years of advocacy, today the New York City Council approved a package of bills allowing youth aging out of homeless and foster care systems to more easily qualify for emergency rental assistance.
Going forward, these young people will no longer need to first pass through adult shelters to qualify for the help — facilities that can be unsafe for youthful residents.
“We have a responsibility to the young people of this city to ensure that whether they are exiting out of a youth shelter or the foster system, that they have the tools they need to thrive,” City Council member Stephen Levin, a Democrat from Brooklyn, said in an emailed statement.
Noting years of advocacy in support of the change, he added: “I am glad to see these bills pass today. It is long overdue, but the time has finally come.”
Under longstanding practice in New York City, young people needed to first enter adult shelters before becoming eligible for emergency vouchers that now amount to at least $1,900 per month.
Nearly 7,000 youth have left the system serving runaway and homeless youth with nowhere else to live since 2016, when Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration first proposed extending eligibility for rental support to this often-overlooked group.
Maddox Guerilla — the 25-year-old chair of the city’s Youth Action Board — is among those who have long advocated for the change, stressing the difficulty transitioning from youth shelters to independent adulthood.
After the City Council’s vote, Guerilla expressed pride that those needs will now be better met.
“People don’t really know what’s going on in our city when it comes to homeless youth,” Guerilla said. “The culture of homeless youth is being incorporated into New York City.”
Young people leaving youth shelters, drop-in centers, group residences and foster homes overseen by the Department of Youth and Community Development or the Administration for Children’s Services often describe the experience of entering adult shelters as terrifying and traumatizing. LGBT youth are among the most vulnerable, too often facing transphobia and homophobia in the adult system, according to a statement praising the bills’ passage from the Manhattan-based Ali Forney Center.
Following today’s vote, rental assistance will now be available to youth who spent at least 90 days over the past two years in foster care, or in a city shelter or drop-in center for homeless or runaway youth.
The vote follows a funding increase passed by the City Council over the summer in the face of a national housing and homelessness crisis. The monthly housing vouchers were raised from $1,265 to at least $1,900 for single adults renting studio apartments.
Both pieces of legislation had more than a dozen sponsors as well as broad support from advocates and service providers including the Coalition for Homeless Youth, the Legal Aid Society and Good Shepherd Services.
Frustrated that children who grow up in the city’s care often wind up in its adult shelters, council member Levin championed the groups’ cause. Over years, he often pressed de Blasio administration officials in public hearings to do more for these vulnerable young people, urging expanded access to the city’s Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement program.
According to city data, 549 New York City youth between 18 and 21 aged out of the foster care system in 2020. Nearly 60% were women, and more than 90% identified as African American or Latinx. Many face difficulty not only finding stable housing, but remaining employed or in school.
One young person who testified before the city council in 2020 about leaving foster care and entering a shelter as a young mother expressed gratitude for the vote in a statement to The Imprint. But she said housing options are still urgently needed for young people aging out of the system.
“As someone who was forced to enter the homeless system after foster care to get a better shot at permanent and stable housing, I am grateful to the Council and Chair Levin for moving this bill forward,” said Chelsea Velez, a youth advocate for Lawyers for Children. “No one raised in the care of the City should have to enter the shelter system in order to find a safe, stable, place to live. This bill is a step in the right direction and I hope that the City Council will prioritize funding this program to ensure its success.”
The bills still need final approval from Mayoral Bill de Blasio. A spokesperson told The City news outlet his administration supports both measures.