Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/276 Thu, 23 May 2019 21:34:59 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Social Workers for Homeless Kids is Not the Place to Skimp http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8520-counselors-for-homeless-kids-is-not-the-place-to-skimp http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8520-counselors-for-homeless-kids-is-not-the-place-to-skimp mayor bdb edu

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


Last year, nearly 38,000 New York City students arrived in the classroom having woken up in a shelter. That’s more students than the total enrollment of the Buffalo public schools, the next largest school district in the state.

Many had been exposed to domestic violence, one of the driving forces of homelessness. Many were forced to transfer schools mid-year, some multiple times, after being placed in a shelter in an entirely different borough. Some were in placements with no kitchen or laundry machine. More than half missed the equivalent of an entire month of the school year due to absences.

Imagine being dropped abruptly mid-year into a classroom where you know no one and have to get used to a new school—all while wondering how long your family will have to stay in a shelter. Imagine having 50 students in this situation—two full kindergarten classrooms of children—come into your school every day, and not having any additional staff to focus on supporting them.

For many students and schools, this is reality.

As the number of children experiencing homelessness has skyrocketed, it is essential that schools serving large numbers of students living in shelter have trained professionals dedicated to meeting their needs.

Three years ago, Mayor de Blasio launched a program to place 33 “Bridging the Gap” social workers in schools with high concentrations of students living in shelter. This year, with additional funding from the mayor and the City Council, there are 69 Bridging the Gap social workers. These social workers provide much-needed counseling to address the trauma that can interfere with the school performance of students living in shelters and work to address barriers to regular school attendance.

However, far too many schools still lack this critical support. In fact, 100 schools have 50 or more students living in shelter and no Bridging the Gap social worker.

We were baffled that, for the third year, instead of increasing funding for Bridging the Gap social workers, Mayor de Blasio omitted all funding for this program from his preliminary budget, jeopardizing its continuation.

Following an outcry from Council members and advocates, the mayor restored funding for 53 of the 69 social workers in his executive budget last month. While we were pleased that the mayor included long-term (“baselined”) funding for the 53 social workers, ending the annual budget dance, we were disheartened that 16 social workers remained at risk, especially when we need even more than 69.

Following further criticism, the administration announced that it would restore funding for the remaining 16 social workers just before the City Council began its executive budget hearings last week.

The administration has cited the restoration of the Bridging the Gap social workers as a key way that it has been responsive to the Council’s priorities. But the Council has asked for an increase—not merely a restoration—of the program.

In fact, 35 Council members, as well as shelter providers and education advocates, have called on the mayor to add $5 million to the budget to increase the number of Bridging the Gap social workers from 69 to at least 100.

Cutting funding for the program and then restoring it should not be viewed as a victory when thousands of students living in shelter lack access to the crucial help Bridging the Gap social workers can provide.

Schools alone cannot end homelessness. But, with the right support, schools can transform the lives of students who are homeless. As Mayor de Blasio has stated, a quality education is “the most powerful tool we know for lifting one’s life chances.”

To break the cycle of homelessness, the city must devote more attention and resources to the education of students living in shelter. The mayor should start by providing funding for at least 100 school social workers for students living in shelter in this year’s budget.

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Kim Sweet is Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York. On Twitter @AFCNewYork.

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Social Workers for Homeless Kids is Not the Place to Skimp Tue, 14 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Where We Work, ThriveNYC is Helping Families and Getting Homeless Children to School http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8472-where-we-work-thrivenyc-is-helping-families-and-getting-homeless-children-to-school http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8472-where-we-work-thrivenyc-is-helping-families-and-getting-homeless-children-to-school thrivenyc dayofaction

Chirlane McCray (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Questions have been raised recently about the cost and achievements of the ThriveNYC mental health initiative. This is no surprise: big, high-profile, efforts like ThriveNYC have always been susceptible to such criticisms.

But ThriveNYC is just the unifying umbrella of more than 40 different pilot programs attempting to deliver innovative mental health interventions across multiple city agencies. Organizing these disparate efforts into one initiative helped get resources for many long-needed mental health services unlikely to be funded on their own.

However, bundling these relatively small, experimental programs together into one big initiative makes them all a target in the event that just two or three of the interventions turn out to be ineffective, or take too long to get off the ground.

This is unfortunate, because in our experience, ThriveNYC provides critical new funding for skilled staff positions essential to our efforts to improve the quality of services to homeless families.

For example, we have long known that homeless children struggle to attend school regularly. Just 34% of homeless children have “good” attendance (90% of school days or better), while over 73% of their housed counterparts meet this threshold. Low school attendance is one of the most damaging outcomes of family homelessness, with often-lifelong negative consequences for children who fall behind in their educational progress. 

Gateway Housing and its partners are reducing chronic absenteeism among homeless children through our Improving School Attendance for Homeless Children (ISAHC) initiative. Piloted at three city shelters operated by nonprofit providers BronxWorks, Win, and HELP USA, the ISAHC initiative uses data, training, and coordination to identify and assist families struggling to get their kids to school.

In just its first four months, the ISAHC program has already achieved measurable improvements: one-third of homeless students who were chronically absent or worse have now improved to good attendance under ISAHC, and we believe further progress is likely.

The ISAHC initiative could not have achieved these positive outcomes without staff funded by ThriveNYC.

Better coordination and a laser focus on attendance identifies kids who aren’t getting to school. But every day, we come across children with poor attendance whose families are experiencing severe mental health issues.  We refer these families to new specialists employed by DHS’ nonprofit shelter providers, called Client Care Coordinators. Over 300 Client Care Coordinator positions in nonprofit-run family shelters have been created with ThriveNYC funding.

Before ThriveNYC, we would have had very little to offer the children of homeless families facing the most complex challenges. With ThriveNYC, we now have a chance to help them and their families with professional interventions not available before the initiative existed.

Service providers are seeing similar benefits of ThriveNYC-funded initiatives that expand access to Naloxone, provide mental health services in youth shelters, and offer Assertive Community Treatment mental health teams, to name three more ThriveNYC programs that are demonstrating real results for the most vulnerable New Yorkers. 

Measuring the performance of new interventions is important – no one wants to spend taxpayer dollars on ineffective programs. That’s why Gateway Housing has independent researchers tracking ISAHC to see if it works, and whether it can be replicated at other shelters.

But implementing effective social services takes time and experimentation. While the jury may be out on some of ThriveNYC’s more ambitious initiatives, we have clear evidence that at least some of its resources are making a measurable difference for homeless children, today and for the rest of their lives.

Mental health needs are all too often overlooked and underfunded.  We should preserve ThriveNYC funding to continue the good work already achieved by its most effective programs, and to give its more daring, experimental efforts a chance to demonstrate success.  

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Ted Houghton and Brendan Cheney are President and Associate Director of Gateway Housing, a nonprofit organization that works to improve the homeless shelter system. On Twitter @Gateway_Housing.

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Where We Work, ThriveNYC is Helping Families and Getting Homeless Children to School Mon, 06 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
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
Criticizing De Blasio's Approach, Stringer Releases Alternative Affordable Housing Plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8111-criticizing-de-blasio-s-approach-stringer-releases-alternative-affordable-housing-plan http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8111-criticizing-de-blasio-s-approach-stringer-releases-alternative-affordable-housing-plan stringer housing presser1

Comptroller Stringer (photo: @NYCComptroller)


City Comptroller Scott Stringer unveiled an ambitious plan on Thursday to address New York’s affordable housing crisis, criticizing Mayor Bill de Blasio for not doing enough and calling for investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funds, increasing the share of affordable housing units for homeless and very low income people, and funding it by shifting tax burdens towards the wealthiest New York homeowners.

The plan, entitled “NYC For All: The Housing We Need,” is intended, Stringer said, to address issues with the affordable housing program embraced by not only the de Blasio administration, but administrations going back to the days of Mayor Ed Koch. Stringer characterized the proposal as a “war on poverty.”

“I believe it's time to change our approach,” Stringer said at a press conference announcing the plan. “We need to break the mold.”

Stringer noted that despite New York’s record number of jobs, low unemployment, and high population, the city’s aging housing stock has not kept up with demand, and rents have consequently risen in price dramatically, particularly in the past ten years. Most left behind, Stringer explained, are extremely and very low-income New Yorkers who face severe housing pressure, numbering 515,000 people, according to an analysis by his office, who are severely rent-burdened, meaning they pay more than 50 percent of their income in rent.

“Behind the numbers are real people,” Stringer said. “They’re actually working New Yorkers. The home health aides for our aging parents, the cashier at the local supermarket, the person who empties the trash and vacuums the office floors late at night. People we see and rely on every day.”

According to the report released on Thursday, the majority of units under de Blasio’s 300,000-unit affordable housing plan are being allocated for households with incomes of up to $75,120, which is categorized as “low-income” by the Stringer report, while far fewer units are allocated to very low and extremely low-income households. Extremely low-income households, which are characterized as those making less than $28,170 per year, are allocated about the same number of units under the plan as “middle-income” households, where household income reaches up to $154,935.

The report notes that this allocation does not accurately represent those who are actually in need of affordable housing, the main thrust of Stringer’s argument that the city’s plan is not appropriately calibrated to need, a point he and a variety of other elected officials and advocates have stressed for years but de Blasio has regularly challenged, saying he believes the plan must include segments for a broad spectrum of New Yorkers looking for affordable places to live.

The 515,000 extremely and very low-income households who are severely rent-burdened represent the vast majority of the 580,000 households citywide that are severely rent burdened or living long term in a shelter. However, only 75,000 units, or 25 percent of the proposed units under the de Blasio plan, are intended for those households.

“The current plan is simply out of line with where we need to build,” Stringer said.

To ameliorate the problem, Stringer’s plan calls for $500 million in additional annual funding for extremely and very low-income housing, including $375 million in capital costs and $125 million in operating subsidies. This would support the construction and maintenance of affordable units for the poorest New Yorkers, for whom construction is more expensive if landlords are going to charge lower rents.

The number of units would remain the same as under de Blasio’s Housing New York 2.0 Plan, which calls for building 120,000 new affordable units as part of the larger plan for 300,000 affordable units, most of which are those being “preserved” under affordable rent regulations. Stringer’s report noted that 34,000 apartments were already completed or are underway, and 85,000 remain to be built. Under the Stringer plan, 98 percent of those 85,000 units would be constructed as deeply affordable.

The plan also calls for tripling the number of units set aside in the Housing New York plan for homeless New Yorkers, from 5 percent to 15 percent, echoing a push by homeless advocates and a recent City Council bill introduced by Council Member Rafael Salamanca of the Bronx; and applying that percentage to both new construction and preserved units. Stringer cited statistics from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), stating that the city has not even met its 5 percent stated goal, with only 1 percent of units allocated to homeless families.

“Mayor Koch, as our research showed, set aside just 10 percent of units in his housing plan for the homeless,” Stringer said. “And the shelter population went down by more than a third in just three years. We can do that again.”

De Blasio has repeatedly opposed such calls, including when recently challenged by a homeless woman, who is an activist with Vocal New York, at his gym and on the radio.

Stringer’s plan also calls for at least 20,000 additional units to be developed on 600 plots of vacant, city-owned land by community land trusts or land banks controlled by non-profit entities.

To pay for these reforms, Stringer is proposing a sweeping change to the city’s property tax system that he says would increase annual city tax revenues by $400 million, through a more progressive tax system that raises rates on wealthy homeowners and eliminates a “double tax” on the middle class.

His plan would involve scrapping the “mortgage recording tax,” which Stringer characterized as being an extra tax on middle class homeowners.

“This system is patently unfair,” Stringer said. “It’s a penalty on the middle class who can’t pay all cash to buy a home.”

The current property tax scheme provides for both a tax on the cost of the transaction, and a tax on the value of the mortgage, with three brackets: under $500,000, between $500,000 and $1 million, and over $1 million. This system favors those who purchase apartments in cash, who tend to be wealthier and buy more expensive units, and do not have to pay the mortgage tax. Under the system, middle class homeowners often pay more than wealthy condo owners.

Stringer noted that in 2016, 80 percent of condo sales and 90 percent of townhouse sales in Manhattan were all-cash deals. Those cash deals escaped being subject to the MRT. The greater percentage of a transaction that is financed with borrowed money, the higher the tax incidence, putting a greater burden on buyers without the resources to do a cash deal.

While ditching the MRT, Stringer proposes creating a more graduated, progressive taxation system based only on the value of the transaction, taking into account high prices of some real estate by upping the top echelon from $1 million to $10 million. For properties over $10 million, the tax rate would be increased to 8 percent. Below $500,000, the rate would be 1 percent. Stringer hopes that, beyond funding affordable housing, the reformed tax structure could help encourage more middle- and working-class homeownership in the city.

The tax reforms would have to be approved by Albany. Stringer, who is widely expected to run for mayor in 2021, said that the new Democratic majority of the state Senate set to take power in January means that the tax reform is, for the first time in a long time, a possibility.

“We are beginning the conversation with legislators,” he said in response to a question. “And they are going well. Again, I want to stress that the state of play has fundamentally changed, we all know it’s changed. I believe that, obviously there are priorities like renewing and strengthening the rent laws, and they have a lot on their plate, but this can get done now because we have like-minded people who understand the housing crisis.”

Getting the mayor on board with the plan may be a different story. Stringer said that de Blasio has recognized some issues with the housing plan, but noted that City Hall has not given a firm answer on certain things.

“He has recognized that the plan originally put forth was not meeting the needs of the people who need the housing the most,” Stringer said, referring to the fact that de Blasio has made some tweaks to the plan, even while resisting some of the other calls for more sweeping changes.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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Criticizing De Blasio's Approach, Stringer Releases Alternative Affordable Housing Plan Thu, 29 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Homelessness & Affordable Housing Development http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8108-max-murphy-podcast-homelessness-affordable-housing-development http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8108-max-murphy-podcast-homelessness-affordable-housing-development mxm logo

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


November 28, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Homelessness & Affordable Housing Development

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

gr mp 400pxThis week's Max & Murphy is part of housing week for the Agenda 2019 project, which is setting the stage for next year in New York City and State government and politics. Giselle Routhier, Policy Director at Coalition for the Homeless, joined the show to discuss homelessness in New York City, evaluating Mayor de Blasio's approach and what the State should do to address the issue. Then, Molly Park, Deputy Commissioner for Development at the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), joined the show to discuss the city's affordable housing plan, HPD's approach to development, changes to the plan that have occurred over time, and more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

agenda19v2 a

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Homelessness & Affordable Housing Development Wed, 28 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
The Mayor and Governor Found Amazon a New Home Right Down the Street from My Shelter http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8100-the-mayor-and-governor-found-amazon-a-new-home-right-down-the-street-from-my-shelter http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8100-the-mayor-and-governor-found-amazon-a-new-home-right-down-the-street-from-my-shelter mayorsoffice unbranded

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


The red carpet has been rolled out and Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo are giddily holding open the doors: Jeff Bezos and Amazon are coming to town, for the low price of $3 billion, a helipad, and prime real estate in Queens. For years, homeless activists have pressed the mayor and governor to invest resources and political will to tackle the historic crisis of homelessness plaguing both our city and state. Instead, they partnered in selling out taxpayers and sidelining politicians to make the Amazon deal a reality.

But not everyone will accept this reality without a fight. In fact, the Amazon giveaway has been criticized by everyone from newly-elected democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the corporation-friendly editorial board of the Wall Street Journal. They join homeless activists like me, city and state elected officials, and thousands of others who are concerned about responsible government and the rights of immigrants, workers, tenants, students, and many more.

I am one of 89,000 people that live in the shelter system across this state, one of the 60,000-plus that live in New York City. I am from Flatbush, but I live in a homeless shelter in Long Island City, just blocks away from where Amazon is planning to make its home. In recent months, Mayor de Blasio has faced major scrutiny for refusing to set aside 30,000 housing units in his 300,000-unit affordable housing plan to house homeless New Yorkers. I confronted him at his gym and on the radio, and others have faced him at town halls. On every occasion, he denies us the basic thing we need -- housing -- and lectures us on why his housing plan is “for every kind of New Yorker.”

“Every kind of New Yorker,” including the ones who haven’t arrived yet and the ones Amazon claims would earn an average salary of $150,000 per year.

Meanwhile, Governor Cuomo has done no better. He refuses to follow through on his own housing commitments for the homeless. In 2016, he committed $20 billion in the state budget to tackle affordable housing and homelessness -- including 20,000 units of supportive housing -- but only a tiny sliver of those resources were made available after a year of campaigning and protests.

The governor pledged to create 6,000 units of supportive housing over five years, yet two years later, 559 units were reportedly open as of August of this year. He's reduced funding for rental assistance, forced cities to shoulder the cost of shelters, and blocked legislation attempting to solve the problem with new housing assistance, like Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi’s Homes Stability Support plan.

The mayor and governor have refused to adequately help the homeless, but they’ve been quick to negotiate a deal with the richest man in the world. Take a look across the country to predict what happens next.

A Seattle county official said the city was “asleep at the switch” when Amazon arrived. By the time the giant settled in, rents had skyrocketed and homelessness soared from 8,522 people in 2017 to 12,000 during a one-night count in January 2018. In 2017, 169 people experiencing homelessness reportedly died in Seattle, and today record-numbers of people are living in cars and in tent cities. In an attempt to reverse the damage, the Seattle City Council introduced a bill to tax companies like Amazon in order to fund homelessness initiatives. The bill passed, only to then be crushed by Amazon, which refused to be taxed and threatened to stop construction in the city. This it the kind of power we are up against in New York. Our homes, neighborhoods, and our lives are on the line.

Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have long-ignored the true needs of the homeless across New York. But by bypassing democracy and giving Amazon billions in incentives and grants to move here, they are trying to erase us -- and many others -- from the map.

We won’t have it. We must remember, this is not the mayor’s city nor the governor’s city, and it’s certainly not Amazon’s city -- it is ours.

Now it is critical that we fight back against this plan and demand the future we all deserve: safe and affordable housing for all New Yorkers, quality education for our kids, a transportation system that works, strong small businesses that remain the lifeblood and culture of our city, a powerful unionized workforce that bolsters fair wages, families that are never divided, and companies that don’t profit off the imprisonment and deportation of our loved ones.

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Nathylin Flowers Adesegun is a community leader at VOCAL-NY. On Twitter @VOCALNewYork.

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

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The Mayor and Governor Found Amazon a New Home Right Down the Street from My Shelter Mon, 26 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
‘Fairest Big City’ Wouldn’t Keep Homeless New Yorkers Out of Housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7698-fairest-big-city-wouldn-t-keep-homeless-new-yorkers-out-of-housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7698-fairest-big-city-wouldn-t-keep-homeless-new-yorkers-out-of-housing mayorbilldeblasio dickens

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


In February at Mayor de Blasio's State of the City address, we heard plans to make New York City "the fairest big city in America." During his speech, the mayor talked about affordable housing, universal pre-K, and even global warming. But who was forgotten in his speech? The more than 64,000 homeless New Yorkers who face discrimination every day in their search for housing and stability.

I am one of the 64,000 people living in a shelter in this "fair" city. I've been homeless for over a year. I was first given the Special Exit and Prevention Supplement (SEPS) voucher last July. SEPS is a program that is supposed to help me secure housing and pay a portion of my rent—but I've been unable to find a landlord who will accept it, even though refusing vouchers is illegal in New York City. My story is not unique. Thousands of homeless New Yorkers like me can pay rent but can’t find housing due to rampant source-of-income discrimination by landlords and brokers. This isn’t just plain wrong, it’s against the law. 

In fact, in 2008, Mayor de Blasio himself (then a City Council member) wrote legislation amending the Human Rights Law to include protections from source-of-income discrimination, and celebrated this victory as making New York City one of the strongest anti-discrimination cities in the country. 

I work four days a week, go to school on Fridays, and in my few free moments, I search for housing. I see a housing specialist, I call brokers who who post ads for apartments, and I fill out applications for the affordable housing lottery. I have conversation after conversation at my church, in my workplace, and at school, to find out if anyone has a new lead for housing. This process has exhausted me, tested my mental and physical health, and above all, has made me angry that anyone could call this city "fair" or on the way to “fairest.”  

The mayor began his first term promising to "end the tale of two cities," and began his second with the “fairest big city” goal. Meanwhile, he's created so little deeply affordable housing and not nearly enough support for the thousands of us who are without a home. Without real action, a slogan of "fairness" is a slap in the face to New Yorkers who are homeless and discriminated against.

Now, I hear Mayor de Blasio is proposing to cut $1.7 million from the city’s Commission on Human Rights (CCHR)—the agency in charge of helping people who face discrimination.  I know that these rental assistance programs are riddled with problems, and they are not the perfect solution to homelessness. But right now, they are the most immediate ticket out of this struggle, and their use must be protected.

Homeless New Yorkers and advocates rallied at City Hall recently to protest Mayor de Blasio’s proposed budget cuts to the CCHR. The administration's response angered me more: we were made to feel like our demands were unreasonable and were told that the cuts would not impact the source-of-income discrimination work at the CCHR. We heard that all five people who currently make up that unit won't be impacted at all. Even so -- five people to protect tens of thousands' right to housing!

Any money cut to the commission renders its work less effective, period. Any cut signals to New Yorkers that the mayor simply does not consider the anti-discrimination work of the commission a priority. And most of all, allowing the CCHR to exist without adequate resources represents Mayor de Blasio’s fragmented and flawed approach to solving homelessness.

If Mayor de Blasio wants to make New York City “the fairest big city in America,” he can start by doing everything in his power to make sure the city's most vulnerable people are protected by the law and can find permanent housing.

***
Georgia Morgan is a member of VOCAL-NY, a grassroots organization that builds power among low-income people impacted by homelessness, HIV/AIDS, drug use, and mass incarceration. On Twitter @VOCALNewYork.

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

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‘Fairest Big City’ Wouldn’t Keep Homeless New Yorkers Out of Housing Tue, 29 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Promoting Tenant Advisory Groups in Supportive Housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7614-promoting-tenant-advisory-groups-in-supportive-housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7614-promoting-tenant-advisory-groups-in-supportive-housing meeting

(photo via nycha/flickr)


The supportive housing model recognizes the inherent dignity in all people. Low-income tenants and people with mental health conditions who were formerly homeless are offered an affordable apartment combined with voluntary supports and services that can help increase self-determination. As supportive housing grows in New York and the country, tenant engagement and empowerment are recognized as important factors in maintaining secure and thriving residences.

Tenant advisory groups are a promising initiative taking hold in New York supportive housing, and may be a scalable approach to encouraging self-advocacy and recovery. In advisory groups, tenants exchange experiences, propose solutions and initiatives, and provide feedback to management regarding issues at their residences. This setting encourages tenants to advocate for their needs and collaborate on meaningful decisions about their home life and community.

Creating an advisory relationship between tenants and staff also builds trust and mutuality, which can be an important foundation for people as they recover from disempowerment experienced while homeless. In addition, it strengthens tenants’ communication and leadership skills as well as their relationships with neighbors and community members.

A tenant advisory group doesn’t only helps supportive housing tenants; the approach also enhances the residence itself. In particular, the process helps ensure issues at the residence are addressed by staff and senior leadership in a way that respects tenant priorities and preferences. Advisory group members become trusted peers in each residence, and can represent the needs of neighbors who don’t feel motivated to self-advocate. Elected tenant leaders also provide a valuable and personal perspective to staff that they may not access otherwise.

Community Access, a 44-year old nonprofit that empowers mental health recipients by providing quality housing and employment services, created a tenant advisory council, known as the Program Participant Advisory Group (PPAG), over four years ago. One of the first in New York City, the PPAG is a tenant body democratically elected by Community Access tenants that advises senior management and creates initiatives. For example, the PPAG designed a program that offers small grants to tenant applicants trying to regain employment. Grants have enabled tenants to complete courses in massage therapy and medical billing and obtain licenses and certificates in commercial driving and food handling. The PPAG also initiated karaoke events.

Each month, the PPAG brings its own karaoke equipment to a different Community Access residence and facilitates an event where tenants and staff share songs and build community as well as share events and community resources. Tenants travel from all over the city, getting to know new neighborhoods and meeting other tenants. Karaoke events are one of the most well-attended Community Access events, in part because they were started and are run by tenants.

Urban Pathways - a 43-year old social services and supportive housing nonprofit for homeless adults - also engages in robust advisory group efforts. Each transitional and permanent housing residence holds a regularly occurring self-advocacy group where individuals address residence issues and work on self-advocacy. Urban Pathways also holds a twice monthly Thursday night issue-based advocacy group for current and former clients to become better issue-based advocates. Recent speakers include the Deputy Chief of Staff to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson as well as the Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff to State Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi on the role of the city and state governments in advocacy.

In this framework of engaging and empowering supportive housing tenants, on Tuesday, April 17, from 3 to 5 p.m. there will be a Forum on Tenant Advisory Groups at Fountain House at 425 West 47th Street in Manhattan.

The forum - the first in a series - will focus on starting a group and empowering tenant advocacy. Supportive housing providers currently doing advisory groups - Community Access, Urban Pathways and Breaking Ground - will discuss barriers to creating groups, provide examples of best practices, and suggest resources for providers interested in establishing groups. There will also be an audience question-and-answer session focused on four areas: how advisory groups advocate for fellow tenants; getting staff on board; involving senior management; and future goals.

We encourage supportive housing tenants, staff, and management as well as recipients of mental health services to attend the Tuesday forum to learn about how advisory groups can build upon the strong legacy of supportive housing in New York and beyond.

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Nicole Bramstedt is the Director of Policy at Urban Pathways, a nonprofit social services and supportive housing organization serving homeless adults. On Twitter at @UrbanPathwaysNY.

Carla Rabinowitz is the Advocacy Coordinator at Community Access, a 44-year old nonprofit that empowers mental health recipients by providing quality supportive housing and employment training. On Twitter at @ca_nyc.

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

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Promoting Tenant Advisory Groups in Supportive Housing Sun, 15 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000