Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/826 Mon, 20 May 2019 21:16:35 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Advocates Give De Blasio and Cuomo Failing Grades on Addressing Homelessness http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8492-advocates-give-de-blasio-and-cuomo-failing-grades-on-addressing-homelessness http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8492-advocates-give-de-blasio-and-cuomo-failing-grades-on-addressing-homelessness citycouncil rafael

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Mayor Bill de Blasio was defensive on Thursday when asked about a report, released earlier this week by the Coalition for the Homeless, that criticized him for not doing enough to address the city’s homelessness crisis.

While he has acknowledged his administration’s struggles addressing the crisis, the mayor has devoted significant additional resources to fighting homelessness and though the number of people in shelter has increased under his watch, he has made some progress in breaking the trajectory of the growth, which has been particularly acute over the past ten years.

According to the Coalition for the Homeless’ new report, there were 37,800 homeless people in city shelters in January of 2011; 51,600 at the start of 2014, when de Blasio took office; and 61,700 at the start of 2018, when de Blasio’s second term began. According to the de Blasio administration, as of Tuesday of this week, there were 58,700 people in city homeless shelters.

Experts and stakeholders like those at the Coalition are calling for more from the mayor, but de Blasio said Thursday that there should be focus on how much his administration has done to move people -- 100,000 of them, he said -- out of shelter and into housing. The administration has also enhanced efforts, with some success, to reduce evictions. But, there is no plan to drastically reduce the homeless population.

On Tuesday morning, the Coalition, led by policy director Giselle Routhier, hosted a press conference at its Manhattan headquarters to release its detailed “State of the Homeless 2019” report, evaluating both New York City and State, particularly the mayor and Governor Andrew Cuomo on efforts to address homelessness.

“The report finds that policy failures by the City and State have exacerbated the decades-long homelessness crisis stemming from New York’s severe lack of affordable housing,” an announcement from Coalition for the Homeless reads. “In January 2019, an all-time record 63,839 men, women, and children slept in New York City shelters.” (That number has dropped all the way to 58,700 so quickly because the administration bought several buildings from landlords providing shelter that then became categorized as affordable housing.)

Homelessness in the city is still near record highs, and the “report card” from the Coalition that is part of the larger State of the Homeless “gives Mayor de Blasio a failing grade on his efforts to create sufficient housing for homeless New Yorkers and Governor Cuomo multiple failing grades on housing vouchers, homelessness prevention, and systematic cost-shifting practices that unduly burden the City.”

While de Blasio announced a modest goal in 2017 to reduce the city’s homeless population by 2,500 people by 2022, the Coalition projects that if certain policy and program measures are not soon enacted, “the shelter census is on track to increase by 5,000 people by 2022.”

The “House Our Future NY Campaign,” which the Coalition is leading, is calling on Cuomo and the state Legislature for a variety of actions, including a major increase in rent subsidies. Meanwhile, the main change it wants from de Blasio is an increase in the number of apartments set aside for homeless New Yorkers in his “Housing New York 2.0” plan.

“To achieve a meaningful decrease in the shelter census,” the Coalition writes, de Blasio should “build 24,000 new apartments – and preserve at least 6,000 more – for homeless families and individuals,” a total of 30,000 of the 300,000 units in the 12-year housing plan that goes through 2026.

Asked at an unrelated press conference about the report and the central question of dedicating more units in his housing plan toward moving people out of homelessness, de Blasio said on Thursday:

"We’ve been over this a lot of times, I’m happy to go over it again. So, I want to just do a little background. I’ve been working on these issues since 2002 when I became Chairman of the General Welfare Committee in the City Council. I know the Coalition for the Homeless really, really well. I have immense respect for them. I have disagreed with them more than one time, and I disagree with them now. I’m always astounded when we have this conversation that we don’t start with the actual facts on the ground, the things that actually happened. I don’t know what’s going on here. 100,000 people in the last five years went from shelter to affordable housing – 100,000 people. Now, I get that good news is not easy to report and I actually don’t hold it against you guys, I hold it against your editors, bluntly, much more. But the fact is, 100,000 people already got affordable housing – that’s kind of newsy – that’s not theory, that’s not percentages, that’s actual human beings. So, I want to give a lot of credit to Homeless Services for the way they’ve created that, working with all of the rest of the team that works on affordable housing. That already happened and we’re going to continue to do that. But look, I care deeply about fixing the problem at the root cause. For the first time, we’re able to stop homelessness on a really big level because we’re providing lawyers – you know, real serious numbers of lawyers to stop evictions. We did things like the rent freeze for two years. I mean, these are the ways you stop homelessness to begin with, and we think it’s having a big impact. But we have more work to do, but there’s no question in my mind that the shelter population is going down because these initiatives are starting to work, and we’re going to be doing more. You know we’re going to be using eminent domain more and other tools to keep bringing that population down."

According to the Coalition’s report, “The last appreciable reduction in homelessness in New York City took place immediately prior to the Great Recession, and since then the shelter census has doubled.” More recently, in city fiscal year 2018, “an all-time record 133,284 unique individuals spent at least one night” in a city shelter, the report says, “an increase of 61 percent since fiscal year 2002 when the figure was 82,808 – fueled in large part by the increase in the number of homeless single adults.”

The report focused on preventing homelessness, housing people experiencing homelessness, and shelter processes and conditions. While the report finds New York City is taking some redeeming action, it finds the state woefully insufficient.

Homeless Housing and Prevention
New York City was graded with an “F” for its housing production and supply, largely because de Blasio has only designated 15,000 units of affordable housing for homeless households in his plan to build and preserve 300,000 affordable units. Only 6,000 of the 15,000 will be available in the near future, according to the report.

Supportive housing, which provides for social services for certain homeless people struggling with mental illness and/or substance abuse and seeking shelter, was graded a “C” for both the city and the state. Last year, the number of people in supportive housing was at a 14-year low, according to the report, despite the total number of people in homeless shelters being at an all-time high. However, de Blasio and Cuomo have been working to change that, bringing on-line 850 units and 550 units, respectively, by the end of 2018.

The report does indicate the city’s success when it comes to homelessness prevention, and to some degree, with housing vouchers and stability. Evictions have been declining since 2016, in large part to the city’s added resources toward providing lawyers to low-income tenants facing eviction, resulting in the city earning an “A-”.

On the other hand, the state has been letting parolees out directly into shelters without enough planning for their reentry, often keeping them in prison beyond their release date because of a lack of space. “This is entirely the state’s fault for not doing adequate discharge planning,” said Routhier. The state received an “F.”

The state also received an “F” from the Coalition for the Homeless for vouchers and stability, having not provided any meaningful subsidies toward homeless housing, whereas the city got a “B-” for keeping over 8,000 households from being forced into homeless shelters through subsidies.

However, the city often places homeless people in room rentals, which is not always a stable situation because people are often paired with roommates they have never met. “It oftentimes results in returns to shelters,” said Routhier.

Shelter Processes and Conditions
The city’s ability to meet the need for homeless shelters was rated satisfactory with a “C+” as investment from the city to shelter the homeless grew by about $800 million since 2011. The state was given an “F” because its contribution only grew by $71 million. The state’s 2019-2020 budget continues to cut relevant spending.

According to the report, city agencies are not finding as many violations as they used to when it comes to homeless shelter conditions. However, the infrastructure at older shelters is not holding up and routine cleaning and maintenance is often poor. The people in the shelters are also often poorly treated by the staff, the report says. On shelter conditions, both the city and state received a “C+.”

The increasing number of students spending time in homeless shelters (more than 114,000 in 2018, up by almost 50,000 since 2011) missed a lot of days of school -- about 32 days on average last year. That is almost double the 18 days of absence that the state defines as  “chronic absenteeism.” On top of that, less than 50 percent of homeless families were placed near the school of their youngest child. Thus, the Coalition for the Homeless graded the treatment of homeless children and students by the city a “C-.”

The city and state got “Ds” for family intake and eligibility because of how difficult the shelter enrollment process is. More than 44 percent of homeless families with children were only able to gain eligibility after sending in multiple applications. The eligibility rate for families with children is also low at 40 percent, the Coalition says.

Solutions
The House Our Future NY Campaign urges the mayor to build 2,700 new apartments for homeless New Yorkers per year between 2019 and 2026. There is a hope that the city will continue to provide rent subsidies, free of conditions that may drive people back to shelters. There is also an appeal to increase the number of housing placement vouchers for homeless families to rent on the private market.

It also calls for an earlier completion date for the 15,000 city-funded supportive housing units. Construction is the priority. “It is critical to know that we’re heavy on new construction because preservation units are already occupied,” said Routhier.

The report calls for Cuomo to support the Home Stability Support program to provide state subsidies for people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless and increase the pace of production of the state’s 20,000 supportive housing units.

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by Ashad Hajela, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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Advocates Give De Blasio and Cuomo Failing Grades on Addressing Homelessness Thu, 02 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
In Push for City Resources, Advocates Show Acute Impacts of Homelessness http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8362-amid-push-for-city-resources-advocates-show-acute-impacts-of-homelessness http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8362-amid-push-for-city-resources-advocates-show-acute-impacts-of-homelessness mayor bill de blasio pro

(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)


As examination of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget for next city fiscal year continues, the Citizens’ Committee for Children, a small data- and advocacy-focused non-profit, is releasing a new infographic capturing key aspects of the city’s homelessness crisis, particularly the high proportions of families with children and black and Latino families that make up the city’s homeless population.

It also points to the high number of students experiencing homelessness and raises the issue of the impact of homelessness on learning and schools, as well as the relationship between rising rents and the housing crunch that has left tens of thousands of people in shelter.

The data, drawn together from public and private sources from across the city, shows a variety of stark facts about the city’s homelessness crisis. For example, that “homelessness is a citywide issue, but it has a disproportionate impact on young children and families of color in poverty.”

Over 13,000 families with children lived in shelters, or are sheltered by the city in hotels or cluster sites without access to social services that the city provides to those in most shelters, like childcare and after-school care. In city fiscal year 2018, the average number of families with children in city shelters per day was 12,619 -- a 28 percent increase form the average 9,480 in fiscal year 2013.

And overall, more students than ever before are in temporary housing, with over 114,000 students in elementary through high school living doubled up with relatives or friends, in a homeless shelter, in a hotel where in some cases there is no kitchen and the neighborhoods can be challenging to afford food.

“This is particularly traumatic for children,” said Jennifer March in a phone interview, executive director of the Citizens’ Committee of Children of New York, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “And I think the point of the infographic is to draw attention to the fact that the vast majority of people who are homeless in the city are families with children.” CCC is pushing for greater attention from city and state government leaders to the family homelessness crisis and for specific policy and funding changes.

ccc family homelessness one sheetThe data shows the burden disproportionately placed on black and Latino families, which is not a new finding, but increasingly shows the disparity between housing and homelessness along racialized lines. “Among the heads of families staying in [Department of Homeless Services] shelters,” the infographic states, “57 percent were Black and 37 percent Hispanic in 2017, which exceeds their share of family household population across” the city. Roughly 24 percent of households in New York City have black heads of household, while 28 percent are home to Latino heads of household.

The numbers are pulled from Census data, public city data from the Department of Homeless Services, and other sources, according to Jack Mullen, CCC’s research associate, who led the data collection and analyses.

The data also offers a comparison of city rents from 2012 to 2017 — with a median monthly rent increase of $236 in Manhattan, $169 in Queens, $180 in Brooklyn, $140 in the Bronx, and $79 on Staten Island.

Mayor de Blasio has put in place a variety of plans and programs to address the city’s affordable housing and homelessness crises, including his 12-year, 300,000-unit affordable housing plan and a number of often successful efforts to reduce evictions, as well as rent-voucher programs. And while the overall number of people in city homeless shelters has leveled off over the past year or so, the census is still at about a record high, with the mayor only aiming to reduce the homeless population to about 57,500 by 2022, at which point he’ll be out of office.

Many non-profit and grassroots organizations, as well as elected officials, are asking for the mayor to double the amount of units in his housing plan that are reserved for individuals leaving homeless shelters — currently 5 percent of the 300,000 units are set aside for them. He has vehemently and repeatedly resisted that push, saying that his housing plan is balanced the way he believes is best for the city.

And, given the need, that’s not the only ask.

“This is a crisis that's not going away, and we are smack in the middle of the budget process for next year and this is the time when we might be able to get more funding for Bridge the Gap workers, for neighborhood subsidies that help center formerly or on-the-edge homeless folks to remain stably in their homes,” said March.

CCC is advocating for continued financing for that Bridging the Gap program, which puts social workers inside city schools in an effort to manage social services for homeless students. This call for an increase to Bridging the Gap comes at a time when the mayor has called for agencies to tighten their belts and removed funding for those counselors from his preliminary budget, a repeated move from past years that he says is only part of the budget process wherein his administration is reassessing where to spend the money to best help homeless kids and their families.

“CCC is right that homelessness and the affordability crisis are two sides of the same coin,” said Giselle Routhier, policy director of the Coalition for the Homeless, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Record homelessness and its negative impacts on children continue to persist due to inaction by Mayor de Blasio on building deeply subsidized affordable housing for New Yorkers most in need. We have consistently called on him to build 24,000 new apartments through his Housing New York 2.0 plan, as part of a larger goal to secure 30,000 units of housing for homeless New Yorkers. This is a proven solution needed to reduce all-time record homelessness and the suffering of 23,000 children sleeping in shelters each night.”

Advocates and service-providers like CCC and Coalition for the Homeless, among others, are also looking at city and state legislation that’s on the table. CCC’s data appears to lend support to the Home Stability Support bill in the state Legislature -- lead sponsors are Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi of Queens and Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan (S2375/A1620) -- which would add statewide subsidy for rental housing for New Yorkers on the border of homelessness, and a New York City Council bill sponsored by Council Members Rafael Salamanca and Stephen Levin that would mandate set-asides for homeless New Yorkers at 15% for every housing development in the city that receives any city subsidy.

A new state budget is due by April 1, a new city budget by July 1. CCC plans to release its new infographic and use the data therein to push for more attention to the city’s homelessness crisis, especially as it relates to children and families.

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by Brianna Zimmerman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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In Push for City Resources, Advocates Show Acute Impacts of Homelessness Mon, 18 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Setting the Record Straight: Mayor de Blasio’s Housing Plan Can and Should Do More for the Homeless http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8135-setting-the-record-straight-mayor-de-blasio-s-housing-plan-can-and-should-do-more-for-the-homeless http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8135-setting-the-record-straight-mayor-de-blasio-s-housing-plan-can-and-should-do-more-for-the-homeless cluster apartments convert

(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office)


Mayor de Blasio has been under constant fire for offering homeless New Yorkers access to just 5 percent of the units created and preserved by his 12-year, 300,000-unit affordable housing plan, even as homelessness has reached a new all-time record high. He has been confronted at his home, at the gym in Park Slope, and on the steps of City Hall, with a growing coalition of advocates, experts, elected officials, and homeless families demanding that the mayor increase that figure to 10 percent of the total, including 20 percent of all new construction. This would result in 30,000 units of affordable, permanent housing for homeless New Yorkers, with 24,000 units to be created through new construction, by 2026.

The progressive mayor who campaigned to end the “tale of two cities” has responded dismissively, sometimes with anger – and always with a series of excuses that don’t hold up to closer examination. Let’s take a look:

The mayor says his Housing New York 2.0 plan addresses the affordable housing crisis for everyone, and adding more homeless units would take access to housing away from other New Yorkers who need it. But here’s the thing: New York City’s affordability crisis disparately impacts those with the lowest incomes. There is no shortage of private market apartments affordable to higher-income households: the vacancy rate for units renting above $2,500 per month is in fact a whopping 8.74 percent, while the vacancy rate for apartments renting for less than $800 per month is only about 1 percent.

Yet a full 20 percent of the mayor’s housing plan is for households making between $70,000 and $142,000 annually, at rents ranging from $1,700 to $3,500 per month, while at the same time dedicating a mere 5 percent to help homeless New Yorkers. Fully 10 percent of the apartments created through the mayor’s plan will have rents at or above $2,500 per month, a level at which there is currently a glut of vacant units. The mayor’s housing plan should target its help for those who need it most.

The mayor says his housing plan is just a small part of what the city is doing to address homelessness. That much is true, but it is not a fact to be proud of. Mayor de Blasio plans to build only 200 new apartments per year for homeless New Yorkers out of the 10,500 apartments per year to be constructed between now and 2026. Other programs implemented by the city that serve homeless people with disabilities, help pay off rent arrears, or provide subsidies for market-rate apartments can’t meaningfully reduce homelessness unless the city also sets aside far more newly-constructed housing for the homeless. The numbers bear this out: homelessness continues at record levels five years into de Blasio's New York, with more than 63,500 people sleeping in city shelters each night, including over 23,000 children. They are paying an extraordinary price for bad policy, as is our city as a whole.

And finally, the mayor says that adding more homeless housing to his plan is not financially feasible. But the House Our Future NY Campaign is urging Mayor de Blasio to designate just 10 percent of his overall housing plan, including 20 percent of the new construction target, for homeless New Yorkers: 30,000 units overall, with 24,000 to be created through new construction. Funds the mayor has already committed to the plan, including over $1.3 billion in city funds each year for the next eight years, show that the mayor has the resources to significantly reduce homelessness. He simply lacks the will.

The mayor’s obstinacy in the face of record homelessness and an ongoing housing crisis for low-income New Yorkers belies his professed values as a progressive leader. Without swift course correction, this wrong-headed approach will lock the City of New York in a state of ever-expanding homelessness for the foreseeable future. The only way out is with bold solutions. Mayor de Blasio must immediately dedicate 10 percent of his housing plan, including 20 percent of all new construction, to house homeless New Yorkers. Tens of thousands of our neighbors languishing in shelters and on the streets – indeed all New Yorkers – deserve a housing plan that offers a responsive and robust answer to record homelessness, not more equivocation in the false promise of fairness for all.

A full examination of the Mayor’s claims can be read in a new policy brief released by the Coalition for the Homeless here.

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Giselle Routhier is Policy Director for Coalition for the Homeless.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Setting the Record Straight: Mayor de Blasio’s Housing Plan Can and Should Do More for the Homeless Mon, 10 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Expert Points to Disconnect Between De Blasio Housing and Homelessness Plans http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7552-is-de-blasio-s-housing-plan-doing-enough-for-homeless-people http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7552-is-de-blasio-s-housing-plan-doing-enough-for-homeless-people bdb mayor tides

Mayor de Basio (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)


The city’s homelessness crisis has been a major challenge for Mayor Bill de Blasio since he took office in 2014. While the crisis was growing over the course of decades, key decisions were made just a few years before de Blasio became mayor that appear to have accelerated the trend, namely the elimination of city and state rental subsidy programs.

When de Blasio became mayor, he set out to reinstitute rental subsidy programming, among other pieces of his homelessness and housing agendas, which have continued to evolve over the course of his more than four years in office. But, the city’s homelessness population continued to increase, hitting record highs above 60,000 individuals, and de Blasio has faced a great deal of criticism for not handling the issue better, including on specifics like shelter safety, outreach to homeless people on the streets, and attention to homeless students.

His voucher programs have not been as successful as he hoped, though he has been fairly aggressive in preventing evictions and city efforts have helped keep thousands at risk of displacement in their homes through legal services and rent-arrears payments.

Generally, it is the sheer number of homeless people living in the city that continues to frustrate the mayor and other New Yorkers. While the de Blasio administration’s efforts have shown some results in breaking the trajectory of the increase in homelessness, with the population relatively steady for much of 2017, there are major questions about the city’s ability and willingness to do what it might take to significantly reduce that number. Indeed, in de Blasio’s second major reboot of his approach to homelessness, his Turning the Tide on Homelessness report issued in February 2017, the mayor announced a goal of reducing homelessness to about 57,500 in five years, which would mark the end of his tenure as mayor if he serves his full two terms.

A leading policy advocate, Giselle Routhier of Coalition for the Homeless, recently outlined several areas of concern with de Blasio’s policies during an appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits.

Routhier is the Coalition’s policy director and author of its recent annual report, “The State of the Homeless,” which looks at “how the city and state can tackle homelessness by bringing housing investment to scale.”

According to the report, an average of 63,495 people slept in the city’s homeless shelters each night in December 2017; overall in 2017, more than 110,000 city students were homeless at some point; and nearly one in five homeless parents today were homeless as a child.

During the podcast appearance, Routhier gave de Blasio some credit, but stressed the urgency of the situation and criticized the mayor for not going nearly far enough. “So what the mayor has done is gone from nothing to something,” she said. Adding that, “he has not been bold enough to implement policies to actually ‘turn the tide’ as of yet, as said in his plan that he released last year.”

“I think it’s OK to say that [the homeless population is] stabilized. It’s important to remember that it’s stabilized basically at record levels,” Routhier said. Of the mayor’s goal for homeless census reduction, Routhier said, “2,500 people over five years. Not households, people. That’s fewer households. That’s crazy. We can’t accept that as an appropriate solution.”

When asked what she would have done differently, Routhier expressed her frustration that, although the plan was bringing sorely needed improvements to the shelter system, it did not create enough permanent housing.

Routhier did recognize the city’s significant and various efforts to mitigate the crisis and to help families avoid homelessness. She pointed out that de Blasio inherited a very tough situation from his predecessor. In 2006, Mayor Bloomberg ended a series of housing assistance programs for the homeless, and drastically reduced the use of key federal housing resources, and “had these Federally funded resources been consistently deployed to serve homeless families and individuals over the past decade, over 36,000 more households would have moved out of NYC shelters into stable, Federally subsidized homes,” according to Routhier’s report. De Blasio has reinstated a slate of city-funded subsidies and some access for homeless people to public housing and Section 8 vouchers.

Both on the podcast and in her report, Routhier commended the city’s substantial spending on rent subsidies, and the extension of free legal services to tenants threatened with eviction. She wrote that subsidizing tenants’ rent “is a fiscally sound investment and often costs a fraction of the $61,262 it costs per year to provide emergency shelter for a family.”

A de Blasio administration spokesperson, responding to Gotham Gazette inquiries, said that, without the administration’s initiatives, there would be roughly 70,000 people in shelters today, as opposed to the 60,366 in the shelter census for March 14, according to city figures.

“We are building and protecting affordable homes for families—including those facing homeless—at a record pace,” said Jaclyn Rothenberg, a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “Between our affordable and supportive housing plans, free legal help for tenants fighting eviction, and rent assistance programs, we’re headed in the right direction.”

Routhier applauded the mayor’s initiatives to improve the quality and accessibility of its shelter system, which has expanded in an ad-hoc manner for years, and still needs a lot of attention. She and many others support the de Blasio plan to end the use of commercial hotels and so-called cluster site apartment rentals as homeless shelters, and to continue to fix up and secure existing shelters while opening dozens of new ones in an effort to keep homeless people in their communities and closer to their prior homes.

The city is now spending $217 million on shelter security, according to a spokesperson for the city. It created a Shelter Repair Squad that conducted more than 34,000 shelter inspections in 2016 and 2017. It tightened shelter regulations to make sure they were functioning adequately. It has doubled its investment in street outreach programs, looking to spend $97.6 million in FY18. It has hired liaison workers with the Department of Education to help families address transfer options, transportation requirements, and special education needs. According to an audit by city Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office done in 2015 and 2016, a sample of 73 homeless students were chronically absent or late and not given the proper attention from the DOE.

“The two things can’t be divorced in our minds,” Routhier said of improving shelters and providing permanent housing. In her report, she wrote that, “in 2017 there were more than 860,000 households that needed to spend less than $800 on rent in order for their apartment to be affordable (consuming 30 percent or less of income), but only 350,000 such apartments existed - a shortage of more than 510,000 apartments.”

Both the mayor and Routhier see this lack of affordability in the rental market as the major driver of homelessness in New York City. However, they have different views on what to do about it.

Crucially, Routhier wants the mayor to change the composition of his affordable housing plan, Housing New York 2.0. Of the projected 300,000 “affordable” units to be built or preserved, 15,000 units are allocated to homeless households. Routhier added, “to put that in context, Mayor Koch, over a shorter time period, did half as many housing units over all, and allocated more to homeless families at a time when homelessness was a third of what it is today.”

Routhier wants the mayor to double the allocation to 30,000 units to serve homeless households, of which 24,000 units should be newly-built, in order to ensure that they are quickly available (virtually all “preserved” affordable units are currently occupied). For Routhier, this is the best way for the city to ensure a “robust supply of housing that’s going to be available to people of extremely low incomes, over the long term.”

During the podcast, Routhier further said that Mayor de Blasio is driven by “an ideological desire to create housing for everybody, in all income bands, when in fact that doesn’t really match with the data that show where the housing need really is.” De Blasio has emphasized that the city needs to affordable housing for families across much of the income spectrum, including middle-class families. But Routhier said, “If you really look at the data, people that are at 80 or 100% of AMI, that are making $80,000 to $100,000 a year, they’re going to be OK, it’s going to be possible for them to find housing in the market.” She believes that the mayor should build housing to address the highest-need demand, even if it means fewer overall units, but more at lower affordability thresholds.

In her report, Routhier also criticized top government officials over not following through quickly enough with their pledges to create supportive housing, which is permanent affordable housing that includes social services. “Despite the Mayor and Governor both making historic commitments in 2015 and 2016 to fund a combined 35,000 units of supportive housing...The City has so far opened only approximately 200 units of supportive housing under its NYC 15/15 commitment, despite the goal of opening over 500 units before the end of 2017. The State so far has opened none.”

Routhier went further in her criticism for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration. Cuomo, a second-term Democrat running for reelection this year, is a former federal housing secretary who has touted his own expertise in dealing with homelessness, but has not been effective at reducing the rising homeless population in the state.

Along with citing the lack of state support for subsidy programs, Routhier noted a recent NY1 segment by reporter Courtney Gross, which showed that state prisons are often discharging parolees who wind up going straight into the New York City shelter system. In 2017, the shelters accepted more than 4,000 people from upstate prisons, according to Routhier’s report. What’s more, the state has “systematically cut off cost-sharing with the city on a number of things.” For example, the cost of the shelter system has increased by $500 million in recent years, and the state has only supplied 5% of those funds, Routhier said during the podcast.

Voicing her fears about the federal government, which has been disinvesting from public housing for decades, and which is currently considering further cuts to the Housing and Urban Development budget, Routhier said that “It leaves the responsibility to the city and the state to then come up with those resources in a much more aggressive way, which is very challenging.”

Routhier’s report includes further policy recommendations which would help homeless families and individuals find permanent housing, including measures to aggressively enforce the source-of-income anti-discrimination law; establish a proper inspection protocol to guarantee that all housing placements made through NYCHA, section 8, or city subsidies are adequate for their families; increase the number of Section 8 vouchers provided to homeless families from 500 to 2,000 a year;  increase the number of public housing placements to 3,000 a year; and provide all homeless individuals and families with housing application and search assistance.

On the podcast, Routhier said that if the city adopted the Coalition for the Homeless proposals, “we could reduce the shelter census by 30%.” She claims that, while her proposals are aggressive, they are also realistic. “There are tools in our hands, and the mayor can use these tools to really advance his housing policy and to decrease homelessness.”

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by Gabriel Slaughter and Ben Max

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Expert Points to Disconnect Between De Blasio Housing and Homelessness Plans Wed, 21 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: De Blasio's Progress Fighting Homelessness http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7517-max-murphy-podcast-de-blasio-s-progress-fighting-homelessness http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7517-max-murphy-podcast-de-blasio-s-progress-fighting-homelessness mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


March 5, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: De Blasio's Progress Fighting Homelessness, with Giselle Routhier of Coalition for the Homeless

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Mayor de Blasio took office with a large and growing homelessness crisis that he promised to take head on. At the end of his first term about 10,000 more people were homeless in New York City, but his administration had broken the trajectory of the increase so that the number had leveled out at about 63,000 for most of 2017. According to Giselle Routhier, policy director for Coalition for the Homeless and this week's podcast guest, the mayor should be credited for doing some positive things -- for going from "nothing to something" -- but he must do a lot more, including "changing the composition" of his affordable housing plan. "He's not targeting to where the need actually is," Routhier said, while going into significant detail about the mayor's policies and what should change.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy and guest @Giselle_Ashley of @NYHomeless. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: De Blasio's Progress Fighting Homelessness Mon, 05 Mar 2018 05:00:00 +0000
City Increasingly Paying Back Rent to Keep Tenants from Homelessness http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7326-city-increasingly-paying-back-rent-to-keep-tenants-from-homelessness http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7326-city-increasingly-paying-back-rent-to-keep-tenants-from-homelessness de Blasio homelessness

De Blasio discusses homelessness (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


In the effort to fight a steady, decades-long rise in homelessness, the de Blasio administration has significantly increased the city’s rental assistance programs over the past four years. A variety of programs including vouchers for those seeking to reenter stable housing from shelter, the effort also entails paying back rent for those at risk of losing their apartments.

Known as “rent arrears” payments, the de Blasio administration has dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars to keep New Yorkers in their homes and out of the shelter system. While this and other efforts, like significant increases in city-funded legal assistance to tenants facing eviction in housing court, have not reversed the upward trend in the shelter census, combined efforts have kept thousands of families in their homes and led to a break in the trajectory of the homelessness population -- the shelter census has hovered around 60,000 for all of 2017.

The de Blasio administration has estimated that well over 70,000 people would be homeless were it not for its efforts. At the same time, an increase in homelessness under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s watch, leading to multiple shake-ups in the administration’s approach to the issue and personnel in charge, has been one of the biggest areas of criticism for the mayor and one where he has openly admitted an insufficient response.

When de Blasio took office, there were roughly 51,500 people in city shelters, according to numbers the mayor used during a February speech outlining new plans to combat homelessness. During the 12 years of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, homelessness grew to that number from about 31,000. During Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s eight years in office, the shelter census grew from 24,000 to that 31,000.

While homelessness has grown under de Blasio, this year has shown a fairly sustained pause in that growth, one the administration attributes to its suite of programs and immense resources devoted to both re-housing people experiencing homelessness and keeping at-risk people in their homes. A key piece of the puzzle has been the increase in rent arrears payments.

In 2016, the city provided 58,167 households with rent arrears payments totaling more than $214 million, with an average of $3,688 per case. This was an increase from 54,737 households and $188 million in 2015; up from 48,654 cases and $149 million in 2014, the first year of de Blasio’s time as mayor, according to data provided by the administration’s Human Resources Administration (HRA).

Before de Blasio took office, the city was also using rent arrears payments through HRA. In 2013 about 47,000 households were helped with $127 million in rent arrears; in 2012, 44,500 were helped with $121 million; and in 2011, 40,300 households with $107 million, according to HRA.

The final year of the Bloomberg administration, 2013, compared to 2016 under de Blasio, shows rent arrears payments provided to about 25% more households. The average disbursement has gone from $2,695 to $3,668, indicative of the increased cost of housing in the city and the widening gaps between incomes and rents, according to the city. HRA indicated that rent arrears efforts have continued to grow in 2017.

“As part of this Administration’s overall effort to prevent evictions and alleviate homelessness, over the past three years we have rebuilt rental assistance and rehousing programs that had been eliminated in 2011, expanded legal services for tenants and enhanced emergency rent assistance,” said HRA spokesperson Lourdes Centeno, in a statement. “By providing emergency rent assistance, we have helped more than 300,000 New Yorkers remain in their homes while saving taxpayers’ money because rental assistance is much less expensive than the cost of a homeless shelter. Helping New Yorkers at risk of eviction remains a crucial priority for this Administration.”

The mayor has not only increased resources going toward homelessness prevention and reduction, as well as toward simply sheltering those experiencing homelessness (some at pricey hotels and at decrepit shelters), he also signed into law a “right to counsel” bill that will cover the vast majority of low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court, where they often do not have legal representation without the city’s help. While he had been increasing funding toward such legal services, de Blasio only agreed to such a law after intensive lobbying from City Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, the co-sponsors of the bill, and advocates.

Before that, though, de Blasio in February announced his second reboot of the administration’s approach to homelessness, with a focus on opening new shelters to keep people close to their communities, jobs, and support networks, while eliminating the use of costly hotels and substandard “cluster site” shelters.

“I said honestly, since we’ve come in, we’ve had to struggle to deal with a constant flow of people coming in, and that got to our worst point just about the time of Thanksgiving last year,” de Blasio said in February when releasing his new plan, Turning the Tide on Homelessness in New York City. “We reached the peak population that’s ever been in shelter, 60,709. Today, we have just over 60,000 people in shelter. By the end 2021, we will get down 57,500.”

De Blasio has been criticized for proposing to open 90 new shelters and for setting such a modest goal in homelessness reduction, which he admitted was such when he announced it.

According to the latest numbers available from the Department of Homeless Services, there were 60,325 people in homeless shelters on Tuesday of this week. (There are somewhere around another 2,000-4,000 people living on the streets, a population that is challenging to accurately quantify, members of which the de Blasio administration has launched new efforts to bring into shelter.)

In an interview earlier this year, de Blasio’s homelessness czar, Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks, said that while he was impatient to make more progress, “breaking the trajectory itself was a significant achievement. Three-and-a-half years in, there are signs of progress and signs of much more we need to do.”

Banks said that other than more federal and state help, the pieces were all in place to not just break the upward trendline, but put it in reverse. He often cites a “prevention-first strategy,” and listed “more supportive housing, more rental assistance, more outreach on the streets, more help to prevent evictions, more money for rent arrears, a shelter system to keep people close to their networks.” He added, “Reforms that we have wanted for years, now we’re putting them in place.”

Discussing the increase in rent arrears payments on Wednesday, Giselle Routhier, policy director at Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group, said that “the scale of the numbers highlights the scale of the need that’s out there. The number of cases and the investment indicate the widespread need across the city, something we should all be concerned about. But it’s good that the city is making these efforts to keep people housed.”

“This highlights one aspect of what the de Blasio administration is doing right -- prevention efforts,” Routhier said. “But when we’re talking about reducing record homelessness in New York City, we have to look at how they are helping people in shelter move into housing.”

Routhier added a word of criticism and previewed a City Council hearing schedule for this coming Monday. “Today he released Housing New York 2.0, in which he’s increasing the target number of units,” she said, “a vast increase in the total housing plan, but there’s no mention of an increase in the number of units for homeless households. For us, that’s a concern given the number of people in homeless shelters.”

Of de Blasio’s original 200,000-unit, ten-year affordable housing plan (now upped to 300,000 units over 12 years) there were 10,000 units dedicated to homeless households.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Increasingly Paying Back Rent to Keep Tenants from Homelessness Wed, 15 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Mixed Bag in Latest Government Efforts Fighting Homelessness, Providers Say http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6411-mixed-bag-in-latest-government-efforts-fighting-homelessness-advocates-say http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6411-mixed-bag-in-latest-government-efforts-fighting-homelessness-advocates-say coalition for the homeless protest


On Thursday, June 23, the two leaders of Coalition for the Homeless, Mary Brosnahan and Shelly Nortz, talked with Ben Max of Gotham Gazette and Jarrett Murphy of City Limits about where things stand in terms of city and state efforts to curb homelessness. The discussion centered around the recent end of legislative session in Albany and the fate of nearly $2 billion in state money dedicated, but not released, for homelessness prevention and affordable housing. City efforts to improve homelessness prevention, shelter conditions, and management of services were also a key part of the discussion, including assessing the de Blasio administration as it works to correct its record on those subjects.

Listen to our conversation:

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Mixed Bag in Latest Government Efforts Fighting Homelessness, Providers Say Fri, 24 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Time for the Mayor and the Governor to Work Together http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6065-time-for-the-mayor-and-the-governor-to-work-together http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6065-time-for-the-mayor-and-the-governor-to-work-together de blasio cuomo smiles

De Blasio and Cuomo, via the Governor's Office


They are elected to lead millions of people, to handle billions of taxpayer dollars, and to develop effective public policy. To be as effective as possible, they must work together.

Yet, they barely speak to each other and won't even say each other's name in public.

There is simply no way that the ongoing feud between Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio isn't hurting New Yorkers. The behavior of the two men - New York City's top two elected leaders - is beneath the esteem of their offices.

A leading advocate, Mary Brosnahan of Coalition for the Homeless, put it perfectly in an interview with Politico New York: "They're both very smart people, let's just lower the testosterone and ramp up the cooperation. It just kills me to see homeless New Yorkers being played like pawns in the middle of it."

Lately, it has been homeless people as pawns, but it has been all New Yorkers at some point over the past two years.

Sure, the feud can be the source of fun for observers, even for the governor and his team, it seems. But, there are legitimate policy issues, livelihoods, and lives at stake. It's well past time for Cuomo and de Blasio to work together more closely. And there are steps, beyond the recent dinner they shared, that can easily be taken - if they care enough to try.

The already toxic relationship took a turn for the worse when, in a now-infamous airing of grievances, de Blasio criticized the governor to the press at length on June 30. Remarkable for several reasons, de Blasio's words seemed to indicate he was giving up on the prospects of a strong working relationship with his former boss and longtime friend.

Still, in November, Cuomo defied what observers were seeing when he said, "The relationship is good...This is a professional relationship."

The governor added what appears to be nothing short of a lie, saying: "We coordinate the best we can."

Perhaps Cuomo's statement was true if by "can" he was implying 'given the fact that we are both more concerned with our petty feud than with working for the people of New York.'

When it has come to a series of issues: Ebola, the MTA, Legionnaires' Disease, homelessness, and more, the city and state have clearly not been coordinating "the best" they could.

Of course members of the two administrations talk with each other all the time and coordinate on a variety of public policy matters - there are major day-to-day operations that necessitate this. But, it is abundantly clear that the collaboration is not as strong as it could or should be.

Beyond beginning to speak more regularly by phone and in person, de Blasio and Cuomo could start regularly appearing at events together. Giving the semblance of a working relationship would at least instill more confidence that the two leaders have one and are not being negligent. A little bit of casual conversation, as the two had while awaiting the Pope in September, can only help repair the relationship.

Cuomo and de Blasio don't have to immediately hold joint announcements, they could simply share space when they're due to speak at the same event, something it appears they've avoided with intent.

But, they could hold joint events immediately and start to move beyond The Feud. De Blasio is set to make a minimum wage announcement Wednesday - Cuomo should be there and have a speaking role. Then, de Blasio should be similarly welcomed to Cuomo's next minimum wage rally in the city (he's been conspicuously absent from several). Also Wednesday, Cuomo is expected to announce a renovation plan for Penn Station - de Blasio should be there, not absent like he was when Cuomo announced plans for a new LaGaurdia Airport.

The two Wednesday events are, of course, scheduled for the same time: 2 p.m.

On Thursday, de Blasio is set to sign an executive order mandating paid parental leave for some city employees. Cuomo should be there, too, and he should use the occasion to praise the mayor and explain his intention to push a statewide paid family leave policy.

Though they have very different styles and somewhat different political philosophies, Cuomo and de Blasio actually agree on quite a bit and could find many ways to truly work together. The two should soon hold a joint announcement after coming to a New York/New York IV supportive housing deal.

They missed a good opportunity to show a united front when they came to an agreement on MTA capital plan funding in October after a prolonged and too-public dispute.

But, as they go down a similar road on homelessness, wouldn't it be refreshing if early in the new year Cuomo and de Blasio could coordinate policy and hold a joint press conference to explain how they are going to work together to improve shelter conditions, get people off the streets and into housing, and keep people from becoming homeless in the first place?

Like you, I am not holding my breath for such an announcement or for any of the joint appearances outlined above.

As the New York Times editorial board wrote in late November, "In a better world, the mayor and governor would be mutually supportive allies working together to ease the suffering of tens of thousands of homeless residents of the state's most important city. But in reality, the two men are stuck in a malfunctioning relationship that has turned once-routine city-state partnerships and problem-solving exercises into an unusually fraught psychodrama."

On Monday, the mayor was faced with a barrage of questions from reporters about the homelessness-related executive order the governor had issued with little warning to the de Blasio administration. It has become something of a pattern, state action without coordinating with the city, the governor showing the mayor who is in charge.

"We are very willing to work with the state," de Blasio said in response to a question about why he and his old colleague couldn't simply get together and hash out joint homelessness policy.

Being willing to work together is very different, obviously, from proactively seeking opportunities to mend fences and move forward for the good of the people of the city and state.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

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Time for the Mayor and the Governor to Work Together Wed, 06 Jan 2016 02:55:32 +0000
Proven Homelessness-Fighting Program Loses State Funding, Faces Uncertain Future http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5749-proven-homelessness-fighting-program-loses-state-funding-faces-uncertain-future http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5749-proven-homelessness-fighting-program-loses-state-funding-faces-uncertain-future Cuomo church appearance

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Office of the Governor - Kevin P. Coughlin) 


More than 60,000 people will spend the night in a New York City homeless shelter tonight. Estimates suggest roughly one-third struggle with untreated mental illness, many of whom find themselves trapped in a turbulent cycle of life including jail, psychiatric wards, homeless shelters and living on the streets.

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Proven Homelessness-Fighting Program Loses State Funding, Faces Uncertain Future Tue, 02 Jun 2015 21:45:50 +0000