Mental Health Housing Included in the Proposed New York State Executive Budget
(Column: Ask the Housing Experts)
Lots of money earmarked for mental health housing
Daniel J. Stern, Housing Consultant, Center for Urban Community Services (CUCS) & Vuka Stricevic, Co-Chair, Public Policy Committee, NYAPRS
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Each year, New York's Governor drafts a Proposed Executive Budget that describes how much money will be spent on State-funded programs. After the Budget is proposed, it is sent to the New York State Legislature. Once in our elected officials' hands, the public has the opportunity to offer recommendations, often through lobby days and public testimony. Based on the public's comments and other considerations, the Legislature then revises the Budget. Usually towards mid-summer, the Governor and the Legislature negotiate an agreement on State spending and issue a final budget.

On January 28th, 2003, Governor George E. Pataki released a $90.8 billion Proposed Executive Budget for the upcoming year. Despite our slow economy, this year's Proposed Executive Budget ("the Budget") addresses the housing needs of New Yorkers living with a mental illness. Undoubtedly, the mental heath community is quick to ask how does the Budget address the housing needs of New Yorkers living with a psychiatric disability, and when will the new housing open up?

Of primary interest, the Budget's section on mental health housing and services includes an increase to the SRO (Single Room Occupancy) Support Services program, elimination of the Supportive Housing for Families and Young Adults program, and steady funding of the Homeless Housing Assistance Program. Additionally, the Budget emphasizes community-based services by recommending legislation for a revitalized Community Reinvestment Act, the closure of five psychiatric hospitals, and spending $80 million on mental health housing.

SRO Support Services

This program provides funding for on-site services to nearly 10,000 formerly homeless individuals, by providing mental and primary healthcare, substance use counseling, front desk security, and daily living skills assistance. For the first time, this year's Budget proposes increasing the allocation from $11.5 million to $12.7 million for SRO Support Services.

Supportive Housing for Families and Young Adults

New York began this important program last year with $2 million. This funding currently offers 604 homeless families and 180 young adults substance abuse counseling, vocational training, job placement, and ongoing case management. The recently proposed Budget recommends completely de-funding the Supportive Housing for Families and Young Adults program.

Homeless Housing Assistance Program

The Homeless Housing Assistance Program provides money to construct or rehabilitate housing for persons who are homeless and have special needs. Consistent with last year's funding, the Homeless Housing Assistance Program has been budgeted at $30 million with $5 million set side for people living with AIDS. Additionally, this year's Proposed Executive Budget emphasizes community-based housing and services. For instance, it encourages passage of a new law to replace the expired Community Mental Health Reinvestment Act. This law would ensure that, beginning in 2004, monies saved from bed closures at State hospitals would be redirected towards the community over a span of five years.

Additionally, the Budget proposes the closure of five State psychiatric hospitals over the next three years. This recommendation, which includes closing the Bronx Adult Psychiatric Center and the Bronx Children's Psychiatric Center, promises to yield the development of 600 new supported housing beds in 2004 and 2005.

In addition to these 600 beds, the Budget also includes provisions for 2,000 more supportive housing units for persons with psychiatric disabilities. In total, this could bring the number of community residential units to 31,000 Statewide. The Governor included $65 million to be used to build housing for individuals leaving State facilities and adult homes, as well as for homeless mentally ill people. While this money would support the construction of the first 1,000 beds, it also requires cities looking to develop such housing, to contribute matching funds. Tied to this $65 million dollar housing plan are both a promise to phase in another 1,000 beds next year and an overall commitment to set aside 10% of all beds for children. Also built-into the Governor's Proposed Executive Budget is a 3% cost of living adjustment to be included each year and a 10% Medicaid fee increase for mental health programs.

While clearly aimed at increasing New York's mental health housing stock, New Yorkers wonder when the doors of this new housing will actually open. Generally, many factors contribute to when beds become available. Nonprofit providers who look to develop comprehensive programs are often faced with the complexities of acquiring a variety of public and private financial supports. Often projects that rely on funding from multiple sources await commitments of certain resources to even begin housing construction and development.

Another common reason for the delay in housing production in New York City is the difficulty of acquiring land or real estate with partial or only potential funding. For instance, should a supportive housing provider envision the use of a portion of the Budget's $65 million dollars, the project must also ensure that the required local match is secured and other funding is obtained, while at the same time, find and obtain land or real estate. While it seems risky, New York's provider community has proven its commitment to new project development despite these complexities. In short, the City's nonprofit providers are eager to use our State's resources to develop new mental health housing, which in the end, gives New Yorker's living with mental illness access to more appropriate housing.
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