Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/276 Sun, 18 Nov 2018 14:53:06 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) ‘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.

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

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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

bdb homelessness 277

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
Dr. King Wanted Housing Justice That Governor Cuomo Must Deliver http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7421-dr-king-wanted-housing-justice-that-governor-cuomo-must-deliver http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7421-dr-king-wanted-housing-justice-that-governor-cuomo-must-deliver Andrew Cuomo NAN Al Sharpton

Gov. Cuomo receives an award, 2016 (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


Governor Cuomo recently gave his 2018 State of the State address. Like years past, he highlighted his accomplishments and reminded New York of the “historic commitments” he’s made to solve our most pressing issues. High among those issues was -- and remains -- homelessness. He called on our “compassionate society” to care for the homeless and, discussing criminal justice reform, invoked the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., quoting, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

I agree, Governor Cuomo: New Yorkers are compassionate; homelessness is wrong; and it is the government’s job to meet the needs of all New Yorkers. And in the spirit of Martin Luther King, I would add that it is the community’s responsibility to hold government accountable when it is not meeting the needs of its people.

I am homeless. For the past two years I’ve been staying on friends’ couches and in shelters while I look for housing. At this year’s State of the State address, I joined the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance coalition, and was one of the 24 people who were arrested while blocking the entrance of the State Capitol. Despite freezing temperatures, New Yorkers from around the state met there to protest Governor Cuomo’s housing failures.

Governor Cuomo’s record on housing has hurt New Yorkers. Tenants are not able to keep up with rising rents, our scarce public housing is deteriorating, and our state has more people homeless than ever on record.

A recent U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued report says that 88,352 people slept in shelters across New York State on a given night last January -- and there are many more, uncounted. Under Governor Cuomo’s watch, the state’s homeless population has swelled by several thousand.

At this year’s State of the State address, the Governor reminded us of his 2016 commitment to invest $20 billion to confront homelessness and create affordable housing. He went on to promise to build on his commitment but provided no details. I cannot help but question whether money will actually materialize and if the housing will ever be built. For nearly two years, we’ve witnessed delays in funding and only partial allocations of the resources we so desperately need.

Governor Cuomo did provide clarity on one thing, however. He threatened to strip local governments of funding for homelessness services if cities fail to conduct effective street outreach programs. This comes at a time when the State has already failed to fairly share the costs of sheltering people with local governments. While street homelessness is a problem that every city should be prepared to deal with, it simply isn’t possible to do without the State’s support.

As always, the question of money will arise. We have already heard phrases like “budget deficits” and “tough decisions,” which only translates to continued homelessness and desperation for those of us living the policies we hear debated.

The truth is, we have the resources to pay for ending the homeless crisis right here in our State.

New York is home to Wall Street, billionaires, millionaires, and real estate developers -- some of the wealthiest people and institutions in the world. With the right tax and budget policies, we could ensure that vital housing programs are funded and that truly affordable housing gets built for low income people.  And with political will and bold leadership, we could slow the continuous stream of low-income New Yorkers who are moving from permanent housing into shelters, by expanding protections for tenants, at no cost at all.

We have some room for hope. Unlike previous years, at this year's address Governor Cuomo committed to closing the carried interest loophole -- a provision in our tax code that gives the wealthiest people in our state massive tax breaks. Closing this loophole would generate billions of dollars for New York, protecting us from the Trump Administration’s disastrous tax and budget policies. We’ll wait to see if Governor Cuomo moves words into action, and truly aligns with New Yorkers who support economic fairness.

Ahead of the Governor’s presentation of his budget plan and on the heels of the Martin Luther King Day, let’s hope Governor Cuomo remembers the more than 88,000 people who are homeless across the state. Let’s hope he makes the investments we so badly need. And let’s hope he remembers that Dr. King dedicated his life to demanding justice for all.

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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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Dr. King Wanted Housing Justice That Governor Cuomo Must Deliver Sun, 14 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
New York City Takeaways from Governor Cuomo's 2018 State of the State http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7402-new-york-city-takeaways-from-governor-cuomo-s-2018-state-of-the-state http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7402-new-york-city-takeaways-from-governor-cuomo-s-2018-state-of-the-state Cuomo State of the State podium

Gov. Cuomo delivers his 2018 State of the State (photo: Philip Kamrass/Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his full policy agenda for the 2018 legislative session on Wednesday, returning to his traditional State of the State format: a single address at the Empire State Convention Center, chock full of slideshow-aided proposals and lofty rhetoric, with legislative leaders of all five conferences and other statewide elected officials accompanying him on stage.

During the 92-minute speech, Cuomo gave considerable attention on his women’s rights platform -- a timely legislation package in the face of international outcry over sexual misconduct in the workplace — as well as criminal justice reform proposals like significantly reducing the use of cash bail. Cuomo also focused a good deal on policies coming out of Washington, D.C., especially the recent tax overhaul program that will hit New York hard. He said the state will sue while also exploring other ways to blunt the impact of the drastically reduced ability for New Yorkers to deduct their high local and state taxes from their federal burden.

The second-term governor outlined a wide variety of proposals for the state and some that apply to different geographic areas. He touched on only a portion of the proposals listed in his 374-page policy book. The next three months will determine which Cuomo can accomplish through some combination of executive action, the regular legislative process, and a grand budget deal, due by the April 1 start to the new state fiscal year. After that, there will be another three months of legislative session.

Many of Cuomo’s broader proposals, like on criminal justice reform, workforce development, and protecting the environment, impact New York City, while several are aimed directly at the five boroughs, such as the creation of a subway station in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the creation of a new park in Brooklyn, and proposals to address the state’s homelessness problem, which is concentrated in New York City.

Mayor Bill de Blasio was in attendance for Cuomo’s speech and, in a news conference afterward, praised certain aspects of it, such as Cuomo’s promise to fight the federal tax overhaul, while taking a wait-and-see approach as the governor still did not unveil a congestion pricing scheme, and outlining a few of the city’s top priorities for the upcoming state budget, like more funding for the mayor’s plan to extend pre-school to all three-year-olds.

The Democratic governor wields an enormous degree of power over the state’s $160 billion-plus budget. He’ll unveil his executive budget proposal within the next few weeks, which will show at least some detail of how he plans to fund the initiatives in his State of the State while also balancing the roughly $4 billion deficit for next fiscal year.

As he alluded to during his speech, touting his ability to lead the state to bipartisan compromise, Cuomo is again negotiating with a split Legislature. While Democrats handily control the 150-seat Assembly, with most New York City lawmakers sitting in the majority, the 63-seat Senate is controlled by the Republican conference, made up of many members representing suburban and Upstate areas, that has formed a ruling coalition with the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference and rogue Democratic Senator Simcha Felder, of Brooklyn. As a result, downstate and left-leaning interests often rely on the governor to take up their policy items, and watch his annual address closely for signs that he will make them a focal point of the coming budget negotiations.

During his Wednesday remarks, Cuomo took slightly different approaches to two hot-button issues, important to many in New York City, that are also indicative of the political moment Cuomo finds himself in. Democrats in New York want to see Cuomo fight for Democratic takeover of the state Senate, including through special elections for two Senate seats that the governor has not yet called, despite being able to as of January 1. A long list of progressive legislation has been blocked in the Senate, with many believing Cuomo largely prefers to deal with a split Legislature so that he can better control spending and policy.

Advocates have been turning up their pressure on Cuomo to push for the Child Victims Act, legislation that makes it easier for people who were victims of childhood sex abuse to bring charges. The legislation has overwhelmingly passed the Assembly, but stalled in the Senate.

Those pushing for the the bill were disheartened by the governor’s omission in his State of the State speech, though it is included in his policy book, as it was last year.

"In the #MeToo moment it’s especially disappointing to see the Governor fail to mention child victims of sexual abuse in his State of the State address, even as he correctly prioritizes the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace,” said Michael Polenberg, VP of Government Affairs at Safe Horizon, and survivor and advocate Bridie Farrell in a joint statement. “Survivors of childhood sexual abuse, advocates, and elected officials have been fighting to pass the Child Victims Act (CVA) for over a decade.”

Meanwhile, the governor did give a brief shoutout to the New York Dream Act, which would allow undocumented college students who arrived here as children to obtain student financial aid as part of a comprehensive immigration package. Cuomo mentioned the Dream Act, which has also easily passed the Assembly but stalled in the Senate, when discussing the next phase of his Excelsior Scholarship, the middle-class college-tuition supplement he announced and passed last year.

Women’s Rights
Cuomo released more than 20 planks of his 2018 agenda in the lead-up to his speech, including his proposals related to fighting sexual harassment in workplaces.

The governor’s full women’s right platform is wide-ranging, from policies Democrats have pushed each year like the codification of Roe v. Wade into state law and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, to his new call to criminalize “sextortion” and non-consensual pornography, often known as revenge porn, under state law, as well as legislation to remove firearms from domestic abusers.

In addition, the governor is proposing legislation to prohibit public dollars from being used to settle sexual harassment claims against individuals, and a proposal to void forced arbitration policies in employee contracts. He vowed that any companies doing business with the state would be required to disclose the number of sexual harassment adjudications and nondisclosure agreements they have executed. There appears to be a good chance that some, possibly most, of these measures will pass, as Republican and Democratic lawmakers in both houses have introduced legislation aimed at tightening sexual harassment laws.

“No taxpayer funds should be used to pay for any public official’s sexual harassment or misconduct – period. It is the bad act of the individual, let the individual pay,” said Cuomo.

Cuomo is also proposing that state pension funds only be invested in companies that have “adequate” representation of women and people of color on their boards of directors. And Cuomo is calling for the reauthorization and expansion of his Minority and Women Business Entrepreneurship program.

Criminal Justice Reform
In a dramatic moment, Cuomo addressed Akeem Browder, the brother of Kalief Browder, the young man who took his own life after being held for three years at Rikers Island jail complex, awaiting a trial for allegedly stealing a backpack that never came. “Akeem, I want you to know that your brother did not die in vain,” Cuomo said, with the audience giving Akeem a standing ovation.

Referencing Kalief Browder’s ordeal, Cuomo announced a comprehensive package including bail and speedy trial reforms, and improving the disclosure of evidence in the discovery process.

“To begin, our jails are filled with people who should not be incarcerated,” said Cuomo. “Race and wealth should not be factors in our criminal justice system.”

Many, including Public Advocate Letitia James and Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the criminal defense practice at The Legal Aid Society, commended the governor.

“This comprehensive package of criminal justice reforms places a spotlight on the current system’s flaws and the need for strong reforms to New York’s criminal discovery, bail and speedy trial statutes. Reforming these core issues is required to end mass incarceration, avoid wrongful convictions and, for New York City, expedite the closing of Rikers Island,” said Luongo. Mayor de Blasio has pointed to state-level bail reform as key to the goal of closing the Rikers jails by continuing to help reduce the city's detainee population.

New York Civil Liberties Union’s Donna Lieberman noted that the initiatives could have gone further, including the passage of Kalief’s Law, which ensures the right to a speedy trial, and the STAT Act, which would disclose policing data to improve transparency and accountability.

Affordable Housing
Cuomo lamented the state’s homelessness crisis, noting that he began his work in public service running a non-profit aiding homeless families, but critics say his proposals to address the crisis are slim.

“Homelessness is on the rise in our cities and worse than ever before. It pains me personally to acknowledge this reality,” he said. “It has become a part of our new normal, but it is abnormal and it is wrong,” he later added.

Cuomo vowed to build on the $20 billion investment made in 2016 on a five-year plan to combat homelessness, including thousands of supportive housing units that provide stable housing and social services. The governor said he would instruct the appropriate state agencies to expand street outreach, homelessness prevention activities, rapid rehousing, and ongoing housing stability for the formerly homeless.

He said he would direct the state’s mental health and substance abuse agencies to increase access at homeless shelters across the state. He also implored localities to do more to help mentally ill homeless people, saying that some claim their hands are tied. He vowed to “change the law this session.”

In a variety of directions, affordable housing and homelessness policy has been a topic of conflict between Cuomo and de Blasio.

During his post-speech press conference, de Blasio said one major area the city wants to see more from the state is affordable housing. He called for the delivery of NYCHA funds allocated two years ago, among other items.

“The supporting housing plan – as everyone knows, the City of New York is committed to, and is funding, and is acting on and implementing a plan for 15,000 supportive housing apartments. The State has a plan for 20,000. We need to see that plan take off and start to have an impact on the ground in New York City so it can help us address homelessness,” said de Blasio.

“And then the broader affordable housing plan that was put together at the end of the legislative session – again, we’re looking for action, we’re looking for results that will help us address the huge affordability challenges in New York City.”

In her statement reacting to Cuomo’s speech, Public Advocate James praised Cuomo on several fronts, but pointed to a need for Cuomo to improve his commitment to creating and preserving affordable housing. “I urge the Governor to push Albany legislators to adopt vacancy decontrol, make preferential rent permanent and repeal the twenty percent vacancy bonus and introduce a housing bond act to create more affordable housing,” she said. “In order to truly protect New Yorkers, we must ensure that everyone has access to safe and decent housing. It is the most critical step to creating a New York that is just and inclusive for all.”

Public Transportation
While Cuomo suggested that there is a congestion pricing plan in the works, he did not provide details, saying that he is waiting for his Fix NYC commission to "present options" to the Legislature. Any plan would be intended to create revenue for the MTA and reduce congestion into much of Manhattan, likely would add tolls on the East River bridges and other access points to the “Manhattan business district.”

He also appeared to take one of several jabs at de Blasio, who opposes congestion pricing and wants to see an added tax on high earners to additionally fund the MTA.

“These are difficult choices, but difficult choices do not get easier by ignoring them,” Cuomo said. “They only get harder. And in the meantime, cheap political slogans are just that—cheap political slogans. It's not a real policy or policy discussion. And that's what we need. Santa Claus did not visit the State Capitol this year. I was watching. Funding must be provided in a very tight budget and funding must be provided this session because the riders have suffered for too long, politics has gone on for too long, and we can't leave our riders stranded anymore -- period.”

Speaking with reporters, de Blasio reiterated that he believes passing an additional millionaires tax to pay for subway system repairs is achievable because his proposal only impacts New York City residents, not the main constituents of the Senate Republicans outside the city.

“It’s a way that we can solve our own problems. So, I’m going to keep working for that because I think it’s the right solution,” de Blasio said, adding, “No, I don’t think we’ve seen enough now to know what any congestion pricing option may look like.”

Public Safety
Cuomo opened his speech by noting the growing threats of terrorism, extreme weather, rising anti-semitism, and increasingly divisive politics. He proposed a number of initiatives aimed at making New York City, which is often a target for attacks, safer.

“Looking back, 2017 was a tough year by any measure, but New Yorkers once again rose to the occasion. We had frightening incidents of terrorism in New York City -- as Mayor Bill de Blasio well knows -- but we have the best police and first responders in the country and some of them are here today,” said Cuomo.

To address gang activity, Cuomo has proposed a plan to cut off the recruitment pipeline to eradicate MS-13, which has a strong presence in Long Island and parts of the five boroughs. Cuomo’s five-point plan would improve access to social programs -- including after-school education and job training for at-risk youth -- additional support for unaccompanied minors and bolstered law enforcement in gang hotspots.

He also introduced a number of counter terrorism initiatives, such as the construction of a new firefighter training facility to support the city’s first responders, expanded vehicle rental regulations, and a terrorism tip line.

“[T]he state owns many of the places of potential vulnerability, our bridges, tunnels, trains, buses and airports, our transit hubs like Penn Station and Grand Central,” Cuomo said. “Our transportation system must be better protected, and we must do it now. We have had warning.” He specifically cited Penn Station as vulnerable and said he already has plans in motion, while also referencing the possible use of eminent domain to make the surrounding area more secure.

Voting and Other Reforms
Leading up to his speech Cuomo unveiled parts of his “Democracy Agenda,” which aims to protect the integrity of elections, requires transparency for digital advertisements, and enact voting reforms.

Reform advocates, like Common Cause/NY’s Executive Director, Susan Lerner, welcomed the proposals but said that “the Governor proposed a high tech blanket to protect an antiquated election system that cries out for common-sense low-tech improvement.”

“It's not enough to simply pitch the idea of early voting – a crucial change that will bring New York in line with 37 other states- as well as same day voter registration, and no penalty absentee voting,” she said. “The Governor must put money behind it. Initiatives like automatic voter registration, electronic poll books, flexibility to change parties, and parolee voting rights are pivotal upgrades to our current system of elections administration that can not be ignored.”

The governor did not give much airtime to his government ethics and campaign finance initiatives this year, many of which are recycled from past years in his 2018 policy book. On Wednesday he talked briefly about ending outside income for lawmakers, and “spent less than a minute total discussing his remaining reforms,” said Jennifer Wilson, of The League of Women Voters.

Education
The governor put forth several education initiatives, including to expand the availability of early childhood care, pre-kindergarten education, and afterschool; a proposal to guarantee free food for school children; and supports for teachers.

He also introduced a slew of measures to address the student loan debt crisis. Planks include appointing a Student Loan Ombudsman; requiring colleges to provide simple 'truth in lending' facts for students; and increasing consumer protection standards throughout the student loan industry.

De Blasio, after the event, told reporters he hopes to see a boost in education aid in the governor’s 2018-2019 budget proposal, which would help fund the city’s 3-K for All initiative.

Infrastructure 
Cuomo said he would call on the Port Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to study potential options for relocating and improving maritime activities and enhancing transportation access to Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood and harbor. The plan would include the creation of a new subway line extending into the South Brooklyn neighborhood “to stimulate Red Hook’s community-based development.”

Citing the Trump administration’s efforts to scale back national parks, Cuomo vowed to open the largest state part in New York City, a 407-acre plot of land on Jamaica Bay.

He vowed to finally complete the Hudson River Park on Manhattan’s west side, a project started by his late father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, and Mayor David Dinkins.

“It was supposed to be finished in 2003. It was derailed by ongoing disputes. We now have settled the disputes. We now have a full completion plan that completes the park from Battery Park City to 59th Street,” said Cuomo.

Next Steps
Along with congestion pricing recommendations, Cuomo is also awaiting the results of a study he’s ordered of the possibility of eliminating a separate minimum wage for tipped workers, which could have significant impact in New York City.

Threats from the federal government loomed large at the State of the State, as the governor, who is facing reelection in 2018 and has presidential aspirations, painted himself as a unifying leader in the face of a divisive and hostile president.

While Cuomo prepares to release his executive budget plan in the coming weeks, he will continue to fight the federal tax overhaul and deal with other ways in which federal policies are cutting funds to New York. Still, Cuomo spoke in grand terms, saying that New York can accomplish anything it puts its mind to, as his tenure has shown.

“Ladies and gents I am a realist,” Cuomo said. “I know that this an ambitious agenda and I know it is probably the most challenging agenda that I have ever put forth. But these are challenging times, and we have to rise to the challenge for the very survival of our state.”

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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New York City Takeaways from Governor Cuomo's 2018 State of the State Thu, 04 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Renewed Push to Pass State Homelessness Subsidy in 2018 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7377-renewed-push-to-pass-state-homelessness-subsidy-in-2018 http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7377-renewed-push-to-pass-state-homelessness-subsidy-in-2018 hevesi albany photo mkink

Assemblymember Hevesi and activists (photo: @mkink)


Legislation to create a statewide rental supplement to curtail the growth of homelessness in New York, while generating savings for local social service agencies, is the focus of a renewed campaign ahead of the 2018 budget and legislative session.

Despite support from the Democratic Assembly majority, as well minority state Senate Democrats, and the Independent Democratic Conference, which forms a ruling coalition with Senate Republicans, Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi’s Home Stability Support plan fell off the negotiating table during 2017 budget talks.

The bill, which would close the rental gap for low-income families and individuals who already receive housing subsidies, gained strong momentum from lawmakers and advocates at the start of the year, but disagreement over how much the program would cost ultimately derailed its inclusion in the budget that passed in early April, according to those familiar with negotiations.

Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) leader Senator Jeff Klein, of the Bronx, wrote at least two op-eds and issued a report promoting the legislation, but he and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie failed to persuade their colleagues in the negotiating room -- Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Governor Andrew Cuomo -- of the program’s efficacy.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsed the idea in public comments to state lawmakers, provided it would not be accompanied by unfunded local mandates; and the city’s four Democratic borough presidents participated in a last-minute push for its inclusion in the budget. In recent years, homelessness in the city has reached record numbers. There are about 63,000 homeless people in New York City, and thousands more around the state.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has also endorsed the bill, produced a report evaluating the costs and benefits of the program. Noting that projecting the growth of homelessness and future eligibility for and utilization of the program is not an exact science, Stringer estimated that over a decade Hevesi’s proposed investment of $450 million a year from the state could reduce the city’s shelter population by 80 percent among families with children and 40 percent among single adults, and save the city millions of dollars.

“Assemblymember Hevesi has put forward a bold new plan that deserves your serious consideration,” Stringer testified at a joint legislative budget hearing in January. “Home Stability Support is a potential long-term solution to this crisis that could offer a real path out of the shelter system for thousands of New Yorkers and save the city millions in shelter costs.”

The subsidy would be made available to households or individuals “eligible for public assistance benefits and who are facing eviction, homelessness, or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous living conditions.” Hevesi estimates that approximately 80,000 households are at-risk of homelessness, and that each year 19,000 more individuals become homeless than move to permanent housing from shelter. The program would replace all existing optional rent supplements and cover up to 85 percent of the fair market rent determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Localities would have the option to further raise the supplement up to 100 percent of the fair market rent at local expense.

During budget talks, the state’s budget division produced its own estimate of what a fully utilized statewide homelessness prevention program, such as the one proposed by Hevesi, would cost and pegged it as $1 billion annually -- a figure it said the state could not afford. Citing the analysis by Stringer’s office, which, based on data from the Department of Homeless Services, predicted that only 30 percent of city residents who qualify for HSS would utilize the program, proponents of the plan soon returned to the table with a new number. By the time the proposal made it into the Assembly’s one-house budget, it had been whittled down to a $200 million investment that would be phased in over five years, or $40 million a year, essentially piloting the program.

Ultimately, state budget officials, assuming full utilization of the program, determined that the program would be too costly and rejected the proposal, according to a spokesperson for the IDC.

"Once we couldn't get it in the budget, it didn't even make sense to try," Hevesi said of the legislation, which he allowed to sit in the ways and means committee.

Klein never introduced a “same as” bill in the Senate because the financial component made it impossible to introduce outside of budget negotiations, his spokesperson said.

Housing advocates, including those who were involved in the negotiations, also expressed disappointment that the Assembly proposal didn’t make it into the state budget, which covers the current fiscal year that ends March 31, 2018.

“Every year goes by we hit new records, and sheltering homeless people costs even more,” said Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director of policy for Coalition for the Homeless, part of a coalition of social service advocates who helped devise the legislation.

Nortz said Hevesi’s bill represents a critical shift in homelessness policy towards prevention, while also resolving homelessness rapidly with adequate rent subsidies. “This will lower the demand for shelter dramatically and ultimately generate savings to offset the much lower cost of keeping people in their own homes,” said Nortz.

This winter, Hevesi says he is visiting Republican and Democratic lawmakers in their districts hoping to drum up support for the bill the old fashioned way, by highlighting how the bill could directly impact their constituents. He says the list of supporters has grown, including every member of the IDC and Senate Democratic conference and at least three Republican senators.

“This is the way they used to do it 30 years ago,” said Hevesi. “I believe that by the time the budget comes along, we will have a huge number of senators that will sign on to the legislation.” The bill is virtually guaranteed to pass through the Assembly, which is dominated by New York City Democrats, including Heastie, of the Bronx, and Hevesi, of Queens.

Cuomo, who is believed to strongly oppose Hevesi’s housing subsidy, has been criticized for failing to adequately address the city’s homelessness crisis. His 2011 decision to end the state’s $85 million share for the Advantage subsidy program led to the program’s closure and has been widely criticized as contributing to the city’s record homelessness numbers. The conditional subsidy program, which started in 2007 and was a joint city-state effort, helped people in shelters pay for permanent housing for up to two years, as long as they worked or participated in job training.

While Cuomo has historically resisted calls for a new state-funded subsidy to fight homelessness, advocates were buoyed by the governor’s 2016-17 Homelessness Action Plan, in which he committed to building 20,000 supportive housing units over 15 years. A new statewide coalition of community and advocacy organizations that formed this fall, called the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance, is pushing for Cuomo to make housing a priority in 2018, speeding up these investments and taking other steps to address homelessness, including supporting Hevesi’s legislation.

Meanwhile, the IDC says it continues to support Home Stability Support and is looking into how to address funding concerns for the coming session.

Spokespersons for Cuomo and Flanagan, the Senate majority leader, did not respond to requests for comment about whether they would support a state homelessness-fighting subsidy program in 2018.

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Renewed Push to Pass State Homelessness Subsidy in 2018 Tue, 19 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Federal Tax Reform Could Turn City’s Housing Crisis into a Humanitarian Disaster http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7364-federal-tax-reform-could-turn-city-s-housing-crisis-into-a-humanitarian-disaster http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7364-federal-tax-reform-could-turn-city-s-housing-crisis-into-a-humanitarian-disaster picture the homeless vacant lots

protesting unused vacant property (via @pthny)


In New York City, the demand for affordable housing far exceeds supply. Seventy percent of the city’s homeless shelter residents are families. Families who should be in homes.

Now, as the United States House of Representatives and Senate look to the conference committee to reconcile their respective tax reform bills, the housing crisis that began in the 1980s will become a catastrophe unless we, the people, intervene.

On paper, both the House and Senate plans retain the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) — which funds 90 percent of the nation’s affordable housing developments. However, the House tax bill eliminates tax-exempt private activity bonds (PABs) that fund half of all LIHTC projects.

Although the Senate bill retains PABs, both bills cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, dramatically reducing the value of tax credits that fund the remainder of LIHTC projects.

Also included in the Senate bill is an amendment that imposes what amounts to an international alternative minimum tax on any corporation with significant foreign operations. As a result, some large corporate investors might be deterred from claiming the LIHTC.

No matter how the reconciliation pans out, it is clear that, if passed, federal tax reform will devastate more than a million low-income New Yorkers searching for homes. And this isn’t the first federal policy to squeeze out affordable housing.

Under President Reagan, government spending on subsidized housing was slashed from $26 billion to $8 billion, contributing to a dramatic spike in homelessness. As a private sector solution, Reagan signed the LIHTC into law in 1986 to counterbalance the cuts to direct federal spending.

LIHTC’s market-based answer to affordable housing was successful enough that subsequent administrations maintained the program while continuing to whittle away at Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds. LIHTC became the best — or rather, only — hope for Americans in need. But in cities like New York, LIHTC wasn’t enough to mitigate the surge and suffering of homelessness.

Although LIHTC helped develop or preserve approximately 122,000 affordable properties in New York City from 1994 to 2014, the city still endured a net loss of 150,000 rent stabilized apartments, leaving tens of thousands of New Yorkers with nowhere to go but the street or a shelter.  

Mayor Bill de Blasio responded to this crisis with a pledge to add 100,000 affordable units by 2020. But experts at Novogradac & Company estimate that, if the House tax bill passes, that number could fall by two thirds.

Even if PABs are retained in the reconciled bill, the corporate tax rate reduction alone will result in the loss of around 300,000 affordable units nationally.

By squeezing the funding pipeline for affordable housing tighter than ever before, both bills crush the supply of affordable housing and the low-income families that rely on it.

This cannot happen — not on our watch, not in our city, and not in our country. This isn’t a partisan issue, it’s a moral one. We have a duty, to our city and our neighbors, to speak out against any provision that would threaten the supply of affordable housing at this most critical time in our country’s history.

Although the House and Senate have approved their respective bills, the final version has yet to be agreed upon. Now is the time to urge our representatives to reject any final bill that removes the tax-exempt status of PABs and cuts the corporate tax rate.

***
George McDonald is founder and president of The Doe Fund. On Twitter at @GeorgeTMcDonald and @TheDoeFund.

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

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Federal Tax Reform Could Turn City’s Housing Crisis into a Humanitarian Disaster Mon, 11 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Enhancing City Efforts to Move Individuals from Homelessness to Homes http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7323-enhancing-city-efforts-to-move-individuals-from-homelessness-to-homes http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7323-enhancing-city-efforts-to-move-individuals-from-homelessness-to-homes tenant apartment de Blasio affordable

new tenants (photo via Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Amid this National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, as organizations across the country bring attention to the issues of hunger and homelessness, it’s important to also bring attention to and advocate for thoughtful policy solutions that address the gaps in our current efforts. On homelessness, it is essential that we provide landlords and formerly homeless tenants the support they need to both encourage landlords to rent to people without stable housing and address tenancy issues as they arise instead of amid the emergency of homelessness.   

According to the City’s Turning the Tide on Homelessness in New York City, as of February, the de Blasio Administration had helped 51,500 individuals move from homeless shelters to housing or keep their housing under the threat of homelessness. This is a striking number when considered in the context of current homelessness numbers, illustrating the extent of our housing affordability crisis. Despite preventing or ending homelessness for tens of thousands of New Yorkers, there remains a crisis. At best, city homelessness has only stabilized, if you consider Furman Center analysis that the 2 percent increase in the city shelter census from 2015-16 is the lowest yearly increase since 2011.

Amid our difficult housing market, the City must do even more to turn the tide on moving individuals from shelter to permanent housing and keeping them housed. Paramount is enhancing landlord engagement. As Turning the Tide notes, landlords are “key partners” in the “continued success” of rental subsidy programs and moving individuals from shelter to home.

To an extent, the City engages landlords in housing those experiencing homelessness. It offers landlords signing bonuses and security deposits to mitigate the perceived risks of renting to those with City rental subsidies. It will also provide a 2 percent rent escalator for new scattered-site supportive housing units to incentivize landlords to provide units. (The City’s “NYC 15/15” program aims to build 15,000 units of supportive housing, permanent housing that includes social services, over 15 years.)

The City also engages landlords in housing the homeless through its public-private partnerships. For example, the Come Home NYC program with Enterprise Community Partners, engages landlords in permanently housing homeless families with income. Enterprise recruited landlords to provide apartments, offering participating landlords a guarantee of up to $3,000 per lease to offset costs like missed rent and legal fees.

Financial incentives are an important carrot to spur landlords to rent to people experiencing homelessness. Concerns and stigmas about renting to this population exist, even if unfounded. For its Home No Less Will Do Campaign, homeless charity Crisis UK researched landlord attitudes on renting to homeless people, surveying nearly 1,000 landlords and interviewing landlords and landlord organizations. It found 82 percent of surveyed landlords unwilling to rent to this population due to a perceived greater risk of rent arrears and intensive tenancy management; and when renting to the homeless, 18 percent increased the security deposit and 16 percent increased rent.

But New York City should engage landlords with more than financial incentives. For example, offer landlords other carrots to encourage them to rent to those with City rental subsidies or Section 8 vouchers. One useful tool is a named contact for the landlord to utilize in the event of tenancy issues. In another Crisis UK survey, a majority of landlords stated that having a named contact, in addition to direct rental payments and guaranteed funds, would incentivize them to rent to homeless people. Also according to Crisis’ anecdotal evidence from a tenancy support program, landlords appreciate having the consistent tenancy support of reputable nonprofit providers when renting to these prospective tenants.

One example the City should consider is the City of Boston’s recently launched Landlord Guarantee Pilot Program. The program is based on a national model to address homelessness in cities with rental markets like New York City - very competitive with extremely low vacancy rates. It has been successful in Seattle and Portland, and New York City should consider it.

Like New York City’s current landlord engagement, the Boston program offers landlords financial incentives such as access to funds for losses like unpaid rent and apartment damages. In addition, it offers landlords other incentives to rent to those with a housing subsidy. One is a landlord partner who supports the landlord-tenant relationship. Another is access to landlord resources such as free mediation services. A landlord partner and landlord resources address landlords’ perceived risks in renting to people experiencing homelessness. Importantly, they also switch the emphasis from acting in a crisis to maintaining tenancy, assisting landlords with resolving issues that could derail the tenancy, before they rise to eviction and homelessness.

As the impact of City efforts to move individuals from homelessness to housing demonstrates, we need to do more to really impact, prevent, and reduce homelessness. This means looking outside the traditional boundaries we work within in New York City. We cannot build our way out of homelessness. We also cannot repeat the mistakes of the past. Ending homelessness requires various sectors working together in partnership.

***
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.

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

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Enhancing City Efforts to Move Individuals from Homelessness to Homes Wed, 15 Nov 2017 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
     

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City Increasingly Paying Back Rent to Keep Tenants from Homelessness Wed, 15 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000