PRESS RELEASE: Report Demonstrates New York State’s Shelter Allowance is Totally Inadequate

Alex Dery Snyder August 15, 2023



Alex Dery Snider



Empire Justice Center Report Demonstrates

New York State’s Shelter Allowance is Totally Inadequate

There are no safe and habitable units priced below the Public Assistance “shelter allowance” and state supplements fail to bridge the gap, creating housing instability and homelessness for public assistance recipients.


Today, Empire Justice Center released a report demonstrating the profound inadequacy of the shelter allowance portion of the public assistance monthly grant for eligible low-income New Yorkers. The report, No Keys to Safe and Decent Housing in New York’s “Safety Net”: The Inadequacy of the Public Assistance Shelter Allowance and Rental Supplements, documents how the shelter allowance, which has not been updated for households with children since 2003 and has not been updated for households without children since 1988, does not reflect the reality of the private housing market. The current shelter allowance for a family of three with children ranges from a low of $259 in Franklin County to a high of $447 in Suffolk County. These amounts are not enough to cover the cost of any habitable rental unit in New York State, falling hundreds of dollars below what the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has determined to be fair market rents for these areas.

In the report, a client recounts how she attempts to survive on such a small public assistance grant. The client is unable to work and receives only $440 per month in public assistance. The cheapest unit she could find in Monroe County was a bed in a rooming house with code violations for $430 per month.  After paying rent, she is left with only $10 a month to meet all her other needs.

“There is no rational basis for the meager shelter allowance. Recipients cannot find habitable apartments in the private market on a public assistance budget. Because of the inadequacy of benefits, people receiving public assistance are likely to end up living in substandard or overcrowded housing, be at risk of eviction, face frequent moves, or experience homelessness, making it incredibly hard for them to improve their long-term economic prospects and work toward their goals.” says Jessica Radbord, Senior Attorney and coauthor of the report.  “While only 0.4% of New Yorkers are experiencing homelessness at any given time, over 17% of public assistance recipients are – and that number is likely to continue to rise if benefit amounts stay the same while housing prices continue to increase.”

The report also documents the extent to which state-funded rent supplement programs fail to solve the problem of the inadequacy of the shelter allowance.  The report shows that the number of supplements available is dramatically lower than the number of households in need of assistance.

“Current state-funded supplements cover only 3% of public assistance recipients, leaving a majority of households without additional support” said Haley Kulakowski, staff attorney and coauthor of the report.



Empire Justice Center is advocating for improvements to public assistance and rent supplement programs to address these problems.

  • New York State should allocate sufficient funding to allow OTDA to provide adequate assistance for housing costs to all public assistance recipients by increasing the shelter allowance to 100% of HUD fair market rent or the HUD payment standard for the relevant jurisdiction while ensuring that other federal and state benefits are not adversely affected. Unless and until that goal is achieved, all public assistance households experiencing housing instability should be entitled to rent supplements at 100% of the HUD fair market rent of the HUD payment standard for the relevant jurisdiction.
  • Rent supplement programs should not have time limits, must not include illegal restrictions based on residency or marriage, and should allow for portability within counties or across counties. They should also provide basic due process protections, including notice and a right to review adverse actions.
  • Low-income New Yorkers who are ineligible for public assistance should also be able to secure safe and affordable housing. Rent supplements should be available to all households experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

Other important changes are also needed to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to safe and affordable housing, including developing affordable housing in opportunity areas where vacancy rates are low, increasing the minimum wage so low wage workers can afford adequate housing, increasing the state supplement for SSI recipients, and making improvements to tax policy to leverage its power to lift people out of poverty. But increasing the public assistance shelter allowance and expanding and improving rent supplement programs are immediate and effective means of lifting thousands of New Yorkers out of deep poverty and stabilizing their housing.


Feedback on the No Keys to Safe and Decent Housing in New York’s “Safety Net”: The Inadequacy of the Public Assistance Shelter Allowance and Rental Supplements report:

“New York’s safety net system was created to help lift families out of poverty, but with the ever-increasing cost of living and public assistance benefits remaining stagnant, the system is no longer delivering the help New Yorkers desperately need to live in a safe and affordable home,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF – Manhattan), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Housing. “Everything from the cost of groceries to transportation and housing has risen over the years, yet in many counties, a family is still provided just over $300 per month for housing, the same amount they would have received 20 years ago. I commend the Empire Justice Center for its deep commitment to the people affected by these outdated policies and for its Shelter Allowance report that highlights the inadequacies cash assistance and the unnecessary obstacles it creates for those looking for a safe place to live. As the sponsor of legislation to increase the shelter allowance and cash assistance grants, I look forward to working with Empire Justice Center to pass these bills into law and finally provide the support necessary for individuals and families to survive in this increasingly high-priced state.”


“This new report from Empire Justice Center employs present-day data to reinforce a long-standing fact: New York State needs to invest more in preventing homelessness and alleviating housing instability”, said Senator Roxanne J. Persaud, Chair of the NYS Senate Social Services Committee. “Further, the maximum public assistance shelter allowances, last increased in 2003, provide but a small fraction of what it actually costs individuals and families living in poverty to rent an apartment anywhere in New York State.”


“The issue of public assistance shelter allowances and rental supplements in New York State highlights a pressing concern that demands attention and reform. The existing inadequacy of these provisions underscores the growing challenge faced by vulnerable individuals and families striving to secure stable housing. In a region known for its high cost of living, the current assistance packages often fall short of meeting the realistic financial demands of obtaining suitable shelter. As housing costs continue to rise, the gap between the assistance provided and the actual expenses widens, exacerbating the risk of homelessness and housing instability for those reliant on these benefits. Addressing this inadequacy is not just a matter of economic equity, but a fundamental step towards creating a more inclusive and compassionate society that ensures all residents have access to safe and affordable housing, fostering a stronger sense of community and social well-being,” said Maritza Davila, Chair of the NYS Assembly Social Services Committee.


“Shelter allowances are by design supposed prevent people from becoming homeless. Unfortunately — as underscored by this report — New York’s shelter allowance rates remain unconscionably inadequate when compared to the real costs of housing. Empire Justice has pointed this out for years. There are bills in both houses of the legislature which could give families a reasonable chance to reach stability, and it’s time these proposals finally get their due consideration,” said Andrew Hevesi, Chair, Assembly Committee on Children and Families.


“This report makes an air-tight case for crucial, common-sense reforms that would increase rental assistance to New York’s lowest-income families and thereby prevent homelessness, which is far costlier to every stakeholder. New York must implement these reforms now. Failure to do so amounts to our government making a choice to relegate New Yorkers to deep poverty and homelessness,” said Susan Welber, The Legal Aid Society, Bronx Neighborhood Office.


“Safe, stable, and affordable housing is key to addressing poverty for children and families. Unfortunately, that housing is too often unavailable or out of reach for many New York families,” said Kate Breslin, President & CEO, Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy. “With the enactment of the Child Poverty Reduction Act, New York has committed to reducing child poverty by half over the next decade. As New York leaders look to take the next concrete steps toward reducing child poverty as the law requires, reports – like this one released by Empire Justice – that shed light on some of the systemic barriers faced by families and communities, are a critical component to ensuring New York stays on track to fulfill its commitment to the state’s children.”




Empire Justice Center is a non‐profit law firm dedicated to making the law work for all New Yorkers using a powerful, 360‐degree approach. We teach the law by providing training technical assistance to other advocates organizations. We practice the law by providing free, direct civil legal services and impact litigation. We change the law by engaging in legislative and administrative advocacy on issues that affect under‐served communities.