Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/276 Tue, 17 Oct 2017 15:18:09 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) ‘Fair Share’ Reform – An Essential Step to Solving the City’s Homelessness Crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7159:fair-share-reform-a-key-step-to-solving-the-city-s-homelessness-crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7159:fair-share-reform-a-key-step-to-solving-the-city-s-homelessness-crisis Carlina Rivera

Carlina Rivera, the author (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


Repairing the subways, closing Rikers, rescuing failing schools – it can seem like New York’s most insurmountable crises are always being dealt with by cutting corners and taking the path of least resistance. This isn’t how it’s always been in our city. When the city passed the historic Fair Share Criteria in 1989, officials finally said enough to the inequitable distribution of city facilities and called for investment in a long-term plan for facility siting in the future.

These rules were supposed to require the city to place facilities in a thought-out, deliberative process that factored in their potential effectiveness as well as the input of the community. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case.

Over the years, the original Fair Share Criteria have been found to be non-transparent and filled with loopholes that city officials and agencies continue to exploit to this day, particularly when it comes to homeless shelter siting.

The city’s new homelessness plan shows this disregard for Fair Share, with officials looking to place shelters in the easiest-to-build locations in order to satisfy the plan's goal of building 90 new shelters. Sadly, this means that overburdened communities are once again seeing shelters open just blocks away from existing shelters, while nearby neighborhoods continue with few or no shelters at all. This is a clear misallocation of resources that will only help to exacerbate difficulties around existing shelters.

Want a real example of how Fair Share isn’t being factored into the city’s homelessness response? One of the newest facilities in the city, a 28-unit shelter that is set to open soon in on East 17th Street in Gramercy, perfectly illustrates the current situation. This shelter is exactly what the city needs – its small size will create a safer, more comfortable environment for its residents, and the facility will have access to the programs that can get New Yorkers back on their feet.

But this shelter’s innovations quickly end when it comes to its location. The site was quietly chosen largely because it was a former treatment center and easy to develop, even though the community already has nearly 1000 beds within walking distance at the 30th Street Men’s Shelter. With such a large population and a lack of individualized supportive services, this shelter has been a disappointment for many who reside in it and a continued complaint of local residents who see hundreds of men outside each day with seemingly no path to housing stability.

I want our district to be a role model for the rest of the city, where we each accept the same, equal responsibility to help. When I am elected to the City Council, passing the recently announced Fair Share reform package will be one of my first legislative goals.

I also understand that new shelters such as the one on 17th Street will be a real resource for our community’s most vulnerable residents. However, we also must be fair and recognize the terrible situation occurring at large, less-effective shelters such as 30th Street, and couple any new shelter openings with a reduction of beds at larger or failing shelters. This would bring shelters like 30th Street more in line with the smarter, smaller shelters we need in this city.

For years the city favored quick fixes over a long-term solution to homelessness. But homelessness has never been an issue that can just be swept under the rug and forgot about, or dealt with by warehousing people. It requires a forward-thinking strategy that looks at each level of the homelessness support structure and honestly asks if we can do better.

A better Fair Share is the first step in this process, and it won’t be easy. But our city’s biggest accomplishments have always emerged from the most visionary ideas. We know what needs to be done – now we just need the courage to follow through with it.

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Carlina Rivera is a candidate for New York City Council’s District 2, which covers the East Village, Gramercy Park, Kips Bay, Flatiron, Lower East Side, Murray Hill, Rose Hill. On Twitter @CarlinaRivera.

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‘Fair Share’ Reform – An Essential Step to Solving the City’s Homelessness Crisis Mon, 28 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Did Street Homelessness in New York City Really Just Increase by Nearly 40%? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7087:did-street-homelessness-in-new-york-city-really-just-increase-by-nearly-40 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7087:did-street-homelessness-in-new-york-city-really-just-increase-by-nearly-40 de Blasio walking snow

(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


Is the number of people homeless on New York City streets skyrocketing?

There were 3,892 unsheltered homeless people on the streets or outside in public places on the cold night this past February when New York City conducted its annual street homelessness count, according to the City’s own statistics released this month. That’s a jolting 39-plus percent increase in one year over the 2016 street homelessness count of 2,794.

The good news is that many advocates and academics don’t really think there was a 39-plus percent increase in street homelessness in one year. The bad news is that’s because most of them never thought the decreases in street homelessness reported in 2014, 2015 and 2016 were accurate either.

New York City’s HOPE Count (Homeless Outreach Population Estimate) is an annual one-night count of unsheltered people experiencing homelessness on New York City streets, or in public places. The City readily notes it’s really an estimate. It is the point-in-time (PIT) census type count required by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development from all communities in order to qualify for certain federal funding for homelessness service programs.

These PIT canvasses count both people who are sheltered and unsheltered. In most communities the great majority of people experiencing homelessness are unsheltered. In New York City, though not in any other major city, there is a an enforceable legal “right to shelter” for most people in need, so that the great majority of homeless people in New York City -- more than in any other U.S. community -- are sheltered. The city can provide a completely accurate “daily census” of people in the Department of Homeless Services shelters each and every day. Counting people who are living rough on the streets or in other public places is a very difficult proposition.

Any large scale “count” in a city like New York is a massive undertaking. New York City annually mobilizes between 3,000 and 3,500 volunteers to work with city staff in counting in over 1,500 defined areas, all over one night. They even have a “decoy” program, employing people to be on the streets in the role of unsheltered homeless people over the time of the HOPE count to see how many of the decoys (call them a sort of control group) do or don’t get counted, and use the ratio of counted to uncounted decoys to assist in making the estimate.

These kinds of counts were invented in New York City. Experts have called the New York City effort “the gold standard” of the point-in-time count. This, of course, is not to say the HOPE Count is actually accurate.

There are both unavoidable inherent reasons the accuracy of the count is problematic and problems with the way the count is conducted. To understand the inherent problems, just recognize that this is an effort to count many people who are hiding from view, and many people who do not want to be included in the count.

One of several major problems in the way the count is conducted is that it intentionally limits itself only to counting those on the streets or in public places. But every New Yorker knows many unstably housed people often spend very cold nights in what might be called semi-public enclosed spaces. Think people who hang out overnight in a 24-hour McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts. And remember, the point in time count is typically scheduled on a January night which tends to be extremely cold. In fact, at least twice in recent years the point in time count was pushed back to the first week in February due to snow storm predictions, but still was held on bitterly cold nights.

For the last several years the Bronx Health and Housing Consortium has conducted their own fascinating count on the very same night as the city’s HOPE Count -- but counted inside in some of the emergency rooms in the Bronx. Consortium President Henie Lustgarten, an organizer of the project that began in 2014, spoke about how the project works.

This volunteer project operating just in a few emergency rooms of hospitals that agreed to participate has developed an ingenuous methodology. In each emergency room they survey they count two groups of people as “homeless.”

First, anyone who registers for emergency treatment indicating they have no address or that they live in a shelter (but wouldn’t be in the DHS census for that night because they aren’t in shelter that night) is counted as homeless.

Second, people who spend the night in the emergency room area but never register to receive medical care are counted as homeless. Lustgarten indicated most of the time this unregistered cohort are sleeping in the waiting room or the emergency room hallways. In recent Consortium emergency room counts those not registered at all account for about half or more than half of their entire emergency room count.

In 2015, for example, surveying just five Bronx emergency rooms, the Bronx Health and Housing Consortium count was 120. The complete HOPE count for the Bronx that year was 69. The numbers and percentages vary, but consistently the Consortium emergency room count has been greater than the HOPE Count of street homeless people in the Bronx.

So the population of unsheltered people experiencing homelessness in New York City probably didn’t increase by 39-plus percent this year. Unfortunately, the real number is almost certainly more than the 3,892 people estimated in the 2017 HOPE Count.

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Jeff Foreman, who resides in Queens, is Policy and Advocacy Director for nonprofit Care for the Homeless. On Twitter @JeffForeman2 and @CFHNYC.

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

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Did Street Homelessness in New York City Really Just Increase by Nearly 40%? Tue, 25 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Mayor De Blasio Let Me Down http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7084:mayor-de-blasio-let-me-down http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7084:mayor-de-blasio-let-me-down De Blasio speaking podium uptown

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


In 2013 I met then-Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio at a campaign event in midtown. I talked with him about my housing situation, that I had been laid off at work and the rent for my apartment had become too expensive. He said if he was elected, he would do what he could to help people like me. I voted for him.

Soon after our conversation, I lost my apartment. Three years later, I am still homeless. The promises de Blasio made to me seem far away, and now, I’m not sure he is still on our side.  Recently he openly criticized panhandlers and questioned whether we are poor enough to ask for money. He’s even said that panhandling “contributes to a decline in quality of life of New Yorkers.” I am a New Yorker - what about my quality of life?

While some things have changed since Mayor de Blasio took office, many others have remained largely the same.  Just last week the Mayor published an op-ed about his affordable housing plan. He announced that under his leadership, city government has constructed or preserved nearly 78,000 units of affordable housing, but our homeless population is still hovering around record highs of 60,000-plus.

New buildings are popping up in neighborhoods all over the city and our mayor is celebrating a successful affordable housing plan. So my question for him is, affordable for whom? Most of the units in his plan are for people whose income is much higher than mine, and not enough of it is set aside for homeless people. For me — and the tens of thousands of people like me — the numbers just don’t add up.

Clearly there is not enough housing being prioritized for homeless New Yorkers. And, even the systems that are supposed to help us get housed are full of problems. For the last six months I’ve had the Living in Communities (LINC) rental assistance program – a de Blasio program. If I found a place to live, I could potentially pay the rent with this voucher.

So why am I still homeless? Because landlords across the city are discriminating based on source of income. Landlords and brokers blatantly respond with “no programs,” or “no LINC,” when asked about potential apartments. This is flat-out illegal! While homeless people are getting arrested for jumping turnstiles, landlords are getting away with discrimination against poor people and they’re leaving us out on the street. What good is my LINC voucher if no landlord accepts it?

Everyone -- from city officials to service providers to homeless people -- knows that the subsidies are not keeping up with skyrocketing rents around the city, and the few places that are affordable are often found far away from people’s communities and support networks.

On top of broken rental assistance programs, the city continues to give away public resources that could house more homeless people. Over and over again, we hear about vacant lots, parking lots, or armories being given away to for-profit developers who get city subsidies to build luxury condos and market rate apartments that are often too expensive for the very community members who live there. Public land should be used for public good.

Mayor de Blasio may call me a “skeptic” or a “naysayer,” but before I applaud his housing plan that he says is for everyone, I need to see that homeless New Yorkers are truly included in it.

For the homeless, the solutions are simple: we need the city to make more housing available to us, we need systems in place to help us easily access this housing, we need the city to target bad actors who refuse to rent to homeless people, and we need the city to stop giving away valuable resources to developers who are more concerned about their profits than they are about our communities.

I am homeless not because it is “fun,” but because real estate profits have been put before my needs over and over again.

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Ruby Carrasquillo 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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Mayor De Blasio Let Me Down Mon, 24 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio and Homelessness: A New Progressive Mayor Wrestles with an Old Social Problem http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6902:de-blasio-and-homelessness-a-new-progressive-mayor-wrestles-with-an-old-social-problem http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6902:de-blasio-and-homelessness-a-new-progressive-mayor-wrestles-with-an-old-social-problem de Blasio Banks homelessness

Mayor de Blasio & Commissioner Banks (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


This is part one of a three-part series.

Part One: The Challenge of Homeless Policy
During the course of his overwhelmingly successful campaign for mayor, Bill de Blasio made poverty and income inequality his main issues. As the liberal journalist and fervent de Blasio supporter Eric Alterman put the matter, “De Blasio made economic inequality the central issue in his campaign and attempted to tie nearly every issue he addressed to that problem.” Homelessness was obviously such an issue, and so when de Blasio took office in January 2014, expectations were high that he would address that problem effectively.

The Way Things Are Now
Unfortunately, as of April 2017, under the mayor, the homelessness problem had, by some important measures, gotten worse. The month de Blasio assumed office there were 53,615 people in the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) shelter system. That number has hovered around 60,000 people since December 2014. The annual enumeration of street dwellers—the HOPE count—is down from 3,537 people in 2014 to about 2,794 in 2016, which is a positive trend but not a dramatic improvement. And the DHS budget remains high: $1.29 billion for the current 2017 fiscal year.

De Blasio himself recently admitted that the city has not made nearly enough progress, while announcing another new homelessness-fighting plan and creating new, unambitious goals for reducing the homeless population. Voters and other observers are not impressed. Surprisingly, given the emphasis de Blasio put on poverty and homelessness in his campaign, a March 2017 Quinnipiac University poll found that voters rated this the weakest aspect of the mayor’s performance, with 55 percent disapproving. And The New York Times editorial board, which supported de Blasio’s mayoral run, recently concluded, “The rise in homelessness is arguably the mayor's biggest failure in that goal to close the gap between the haves and the have-nots.”

How did the mayor end up in this position, and what is he doing about it?

How We Got Here
To put de Blasio’s situation in context, we have to go back to 2004, when Mayor Bloomberg developed a five-year plan to “make the condition of chronic homelessness effectively extinct in New York.” Preventing homelessness would be emphasized through a “Home Base” program that would intervene with at-risk families to keep them housed. Analysis would show that Home Base did lower homelessness and even paid for itself.

More supportive housing—that is, apartments with services for the mentally ill and other disabled street dwellers—was to be developed. This goal was accomplished in 2005, when the city and state signed the third in a series of “New York/New York” agreements, which produced 9,000 such units. Under the “Housing First” philosophy, street dwellers would be moved into supportive housing as quickly as possible, an approach that both reduced street homelessness and encouraged enrollment in rehabilitative services. Shelter use was to be cut by rehousing long-term shelter stayers. And, very importantly, shelter clients were to be moved out through rent subsidies, which, a key document noted, “must continue to be available in shelter to re-house chronically homeless individuals and families.”

Bloomberg pledged to reduce the shelter census—36,399 people in June of 2004—by two-thirds in five years, to about 12,000 persons by 2009.

On October 19, 2004, DHS abandoned its long-term policy of giving shelter residents priority for entering public housing and for federal Section 8 rent vouchers, which were forms of housing subsidies. Commissioner of DHS Linda Gibbs believed that policy attracted poor families into the shelters to receive the subsidies and so drove up the census. But moving one family out of the system with a subsidy meant the census would go up only if subsidies also drew in more than one new family. But economists found that to draw one family into the system requires placing seven families into subsidized housing. Perverse incentives are real but too weak to drive up the shelter census. Nonetheless, shelter families lost preferential access to public housing and Section 8 vouchers; instead, they were eligible for a temporary five-year rent subsidy, Housing Stability Plus. This system was then replaced in 2007 by Advantage, a two-year-maximum rent-subsidy program funded jointly by the state and the city.

By Bloomberg’s deadline of June 2009, the shelter census had not dropped appreciably. Then, as a result of a falling out between the city and the state over funding amid the unraveling financial crisis, Advantage ended. At that point no subsidies of any kind were offered to move families out of the shelter system. The number of people in the DHS shelter system began going up, and in January 2014 de Blasio inherited a record high shelter census.

De Blasio’s challenge was to create a new rent subsidy, implement it effectively, do nothing to encourage shelter entries, and hope for a decline in the census. How well did he meet that challenge?

De Blasio’s First Steps
First, the new administration made striking changes in personnel as well as policy. Steven Banks, the Legal Aid lawyer who since 1983 had litigated against the city for the right to shelter for homeless families, became commissioner of HRA, which runs public-benefit programs including rent subsidies. Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, a former Catholic nun who served in the city’s social service bureaucracy under Koch, Giuliani, and Bloomberg, became deputy mayor for Health and Human Services. And Gilbert Taylor, formerly executive deputy commissioner for the Administration for Children’s Services, was appointed commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services.

The new administration’s biggest initiative in homeless policy is the Living in Communities (LINC) programs, which are a batch of rental-subsidy programs designed to help various sorts of shelter clients move out of the system. But the new programs had implementation problems. Getting LINC started required cooperation from New York State and thus between de Blasio and Governor Cuomo. The necessary small adjustments were not accomplished in a timely manner. LINC did not get fully up to speed until December 2014, and the nonpartisan Independent Budget Office concluded that “the homeless shelter population has remained stubbornly high this year. This is largely due to a slower than anticipated start to the LINC rental assistance programs.”

The ongoing Cuomo-de Blasio turbulence also delayed the development of more supportive housing. Supportive housing provided through the New York/New York agreements is one of the great successes in homeless policy and has been demonstrated to keep the disabled off the streets and reduce the cost of their care. The last of these agreements was signed in November 2005, and by 2014 most of its units were occupied. Thus, many homeless people remained on the streets, where they attracted the attention of unsympathetic media and the general public and fostered the perception of a homeless crisis. In fact, despite the declining street homeless population documented by the HOPE count, the March 2017 Quinnipiac poll reported that 54 percent of city voters believed that they were seeing more homeless people on the streets and in parks and subways than they did a few years ago.

The de Blasio team made a big misstep when in 2015 it decided to halt development of new shelters for eight months due to community opposition. When the delayed LINC program did not reduce the shelter census, the city was forced to rely on various unsatisfactory stopgaps to put up homeless clients.

Cluster Sites
One such stopgap is the cluster site program, which was initiated by the Bloomberg administration and harshly criticized by de Blasio before he became mayor. Under this program, DHS rents out a “cluster” of private apartments to shelter homeless families. Private landlords own the apartments while nonprofit providers under contract with DHS provide the families with services, and the buildings have a mix of homeless families and private rent-paying tenants.

The cluster site program is a policy disaster. It is premised on putting shelter families in apartments that would otherwise have gone to still-independent families, thus making an already tight low-income housing market even worse. And cluster site apartments are of poor quality. In March 2015, the Department of Investigation (DOI), which is a non-mayoral agency, released a scathing, 180-page report on family shelters that focused mostly on cluster site apartments.

The DOI report found DHS’ cluster sites to be “poorly monitored” and said that they “provide the least adequate social services to families.” Among the issues were rodent infestations, fire safety code violations, defective window guards, a lack of furniture, and units in need of major repair. Landlords can charge three times the market rent for such low-quality apartments.

Moreover, as the buildings are privately owned, DHS is unable to monitor who is using the apartment, security guards cannot screen guests, and there are many unauthorized visitors. Assaults, prostitution, gang activity, and other crimes are frequent. DHS is even renting from landlords who are on the Public Advocate’s list of the city’s 100 worst landlords. Well before he became mayor, de Blasio was aware of these problems and pledged to end the use of cluster sites. But his moratorium on building new shelters and continuing high demand left him unable to do so. Given the vastness of the cluster site program—3,000 families—improvement will take years.

Commercial Hotels
De Blasio inherited the cluster site program from Bloomberg, but is himself responsible for reviving the old and unfortunate practice of placing shelter system clients in commercial hotels. In the late 1980s, the common practice was to place homeless families in private, for-profit “welfare hotels” where conditions were infamously bad. Eventually the federal government refused to fund these hotels, and the practice was curbed.

But because of increased demand, de Blasio has had to return to using commercial hotels. Unlike with traditional, “Tier II” shelters, use of commercial hotels does not require community board notification, for the city is able to claim that it is not actually opening up a “facility,” but merely renting out hotel rooms. DHS has to make sure its clients maintain a low profile in these hotels to avoid protests from other guests.

Further, providing social services in a private facility is difficult. DHS clients in commercial hotels, although they may like the relative independence hotels offer compared to Tier IIs, are thus less likely to receive the necessary assistance to obtain permanent housing. Also, security at the hotels is poor. Visitors are not monitored and only recently have security guards been stationed at hotels. In February of 2016, there was a triple homicide at the Staten Island Ramada Inn. A man murdered his girlfriend and her two children, one of whom was his own. Had this hotel had the same security and monitoring that is provided in Tier II shelters, it is unlikely that this tragedy would have occurred.

This is part one of a three-part series.
Read Part Two: Setbacks and Responses
Skip to Part Three: Can de Blasio Turn the Tide on Homelessness

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by Peter Nasaw and Thomas J. Main. Nasaw, MPA, LMSW, is an expert on homeless policy who has worked in the social services for several years. Main is a professor at the School of Public and International Affairs, Baruch College, City University of New York and author of Homelessness in New York City: Policymaking from Koch to de Blasio.

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De Blasio and Homelessness: A New Progressive Mayor Wrestles with an Old Social Problem Sun, 30 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Wrestles with Homelessness -- Part Two: Setbacks and Responses http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6903:de-blasio-wrestles-with-homelessness-part-two-setbacks-and-responses http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6903:de-blasio-wrestles-with-homelessness-part-two-setbacks-and-responses de Blasio Banks McCray homeless shelter

Mayor de Blasio & aides visit a shelter (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


This is part two of a three-part series, De Blasio and Homelessness: A New Progressive Mayor Wrestles with an Old Social Problem, by Peter Nasaw and Thomas J. Main. [Jump to Part One: The Challenge of Homeless Policy]

Part Two: Setbacks and Responses
The new administration was set back when Barrios-Paoli, a seasoned administrator and voice of moderation, left just 20 months after she had joined with much fanfare. Moreover, Gilbert Taylor did not work out as DHS commissioner and stepped down on December 15, 2015. Thus, for about the first two years of his administration, while he was being battered in the press and in public opinion over the issue of homelessness , de Blasio tolerated the presence of an ineffective point person on this crucial issue. With Taylor’s departure, HRA Commissioner Banks took temporary charge of DHS.

Thus, by mid-December 2015, city homelessness policy was perhaps not in crisis but certainly less than optimal.

Responsibility was widespread. Bloomberg failed to follow up on promising beginnings, eliminated housing subsidies, and drove up the shelter census. Candidate de Blasio underestimated how difficult a reversal would be. The conflict between de Blasio and Cuomo delayed the renewal of rent subsidies and kept the shelter census higher than it would have been. The feud also put off a fourth New York/New York agreement, leaving the city with few supportive housing units for unsheltered mentally ill people, who remained on the streets to be seen by all. The mayor responded slowly to the resulting media flap. Putting off building or opening new shelters forced the city to rely on cluster sites and commercial hotels. Turmoil and turnover in city leadership hurt. If de Blasio was to prove that a progressive could govern New York City, he would have to pick up his game, and he tried to do so.

Street Homelessness and Supportive Housing
To deal with the perception that street homelessness was out of control, the administration introduced the Home-Stat program. Sixty workers from the Mayor’s Office of Operations now patrol Manhattan streets and call in sightings of homeless people to the city’s nonemergency phone number, 311. Funding to private outreach nonprofits will be increased so that they can expand their street outreach teams from 175 to 312 workers and thus be able to respond to 311 calls within one hour. The Police Department will redeploy 40 officers to its Homeless Outreach Unit. Two extra mini-counts of homeless people living on the street will be done each year for a total of four yearly counts. The idea is to identify street homeless individuals quickly and bring them to shelter rapidly. It may also be that the administration finally realized that more frequent and more accurate enumerations of street homelessness will be likely to rebut the belief that this population has exploded.

Further, it seems that a way around the Cuomo-de Blasio impasse, as it concerns supportive housing, may have developed. There is still no New York/New York IV agreement, but there is what might be called a New York/New York IV disagreement. In his State of the State speech of January 13, 2016, Governor Cuomo announced plans for the state to develop 20,000 supportive housing units over 15 years. Earlier, de Blasio had announced the city was moving forward without the state and pledged that the city would develop 15,000 supportive units over the same period.

In other words, since the mayor and governor cannot get along well enough to sign a formal agreement, each will undertake part of the job on his own. Supporters of a New York/New York IV had been calling for 30,000 more units and are pleased that in sum the city and state plan to create 35,000 units. The New York/New York agreements were strikingly successful ventures in intergovernmental cooperation, so it is a pity that that process has apparently been abandoned for largely personal reasons. No one knows yet whether the lack of a formal agreement will prove to be a problem.

HRA/DHS Integration
A key part of the effort to get on top of the homelessness issue was the partial re-merger of DHS with HRA. Homeless services were spun off from HRA in 1994. In April of 2016, a 90-day review authored by City Hall with the help of outside management consultants PriceWaterhouseCooper argued that having two different agencies provide services to largely overlapping populations was inefficient. The mayor’s solution was to have both HRA, which runs subsidies, and DHS, which runs the shelters, report to Banks, who was now dubbed commissioner of social services. The review projected $38 million in savings from the combined management structure.

But this partial merger may not be a good idea. As an independent agency, DHS was able to communicate and bargain with other city entities. Most homeless services are performed not directly by DHS, but by contracted providers, who are generally not enthusiastic about the new arrangement. Most providers prefer to deal with a small agency focused on their specific issue rather than a very large but possibly more powerful super-agency. Bureaucratic coordination via consolidation is rarely achieved in America’s fragmented administrative system. Agency effectiveness is more likely to be achieved by smaller, mission-driven organizations. But if the new, better-integrated structure is to work, the mayor needs to get serious about it: so far, no new head of DHS has been appointed.

Housing Subsidies and Their Limitations
Another problem for the de Blasio administration is that the LINC subsidies did not have as much of an effect as was hoped, at least through 2015. According to a report from the Independent Budget Office, as of December 2015, the program was unlikely to meet its targeted goals. Although new data are yet to be made available, there remain concerns about whether enough landlords will accept city-funded housing vouchers.

Analysts believe that since the end of Advantage, housing prices have risen, and so LINC vouchers are too paltry (between about $1,200 and $1,550 depending on household size). Also, many of the very apartments that would be assigned to LINC voucher-holders are still being used as cluster site units.

De Blasio’s other housing voucher program is CITYFEPS. FEPS stands for Family Eviction Prevention Services, and is designed for families that have experienced eviction. The program guarantees four months of rent upfront to incentivize landlords to rent to homeless families. The CITYFEPS vouchers provide the same support as LINC vouchers.

But the FEPS program has serious problems. Apartments that participate in housing subsidy programs—including Section 8, NYCHA, and LINC—are inspected by the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) in order to meet federal standards for habitation. However, CITYFEPS units are not inspected by HPD. According to an HRA spokesperson, “For CITYFEPS, not-for-profit service providers generally do an assessment of the units, including a walk-through of the units.” But providers are judged by DHS partly by the number of families they place in independent apartments. Underperforming providers are at risk of losing their contract. So providers have an interest in approving apartments that can undermine their objectivity.

The HPD inspection process is time tested; their inspectors are trained and regulated, and there are rules in place to prevent conflicts of interest. CITYFEPS apartments need to be inspected by HPD in order to protect vulnerable families from being exploited by unscrupulous landlords. Allowing potentially self-interested shelter providers to inspect FEPS units is incautious and likely to provoke criticism when it comes to light.

The Eligibility Process
A major factor that has driven demand, but has rarely been spoken about in public, is the eligibility process for families that apply to shelters. The city must direct scarce housing resources to those who are most in need, and the eligibility process is designed to keep out all but the most needy families.

The city shelter system is regulated by the state welfare department, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA). In December of 2015, OTDA issued a new regulation that drastically loosened eligibility rules. Very often, families applying for shelter had previously been living in an apartment leased to a family member or friend. Essentially, the new administrative directive made it much easier for the primary tenant of an apartment to refuse to let a family applying for shelter return to the apartment where it had been staying.

Often, prior housing history, public assistance records, and close family ties would show that despite the primary tenant’s refusal, the applicant was in fact lawfully permitted to reside at the address of origin. With the new rules, any applicant who told eligibility specialists that they were not allowed to return to their former apartment would more likely be found eligible for shelter. In effect, the primary tenant now had a greater power to evict family members than did the city marshal.

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, “the 2015 change in policy resulted in a decrease of the percentage of families denied shelter.” No doubt many needy families now received shelter, but the census was also driven up. Whether this was on balance a good deal may be doubted. In any case, almost one year later, in December 2016, a new OTDA regulation allowed the city to re-tighten eligibility standards.

In effect, eligibility standards were loosened, more families were found eligible, the shelter census went up, and then the standards were tightened again. Fiddling with the eligibility standards at the very time when the new rent-subsidy programs were supposed to drive the shelter census down was probably not a good idea.

This is part two of a three-part series.
Read Part Three: Can de Blasio Turn the Tide on Homelessness?
Jump to Part One: The Challenge of Homeless Policy

***
by Peter Nasaw and Thomas J. Main. Nasaw, MPA, LMSW, is an expert on homeless policy who has worked in the social services for several years. Main is a professor at the School of Public and International Affairs, Baruch College, City University of New York and author of Homelessness in New York City: Policymaking from Koch to de Blasio.

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De Blasio Wrestles with Homelessness -- Part Two: Setbacks and Responses Sun, 30 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Wrestles with Homelessness -- Part Three: Can de Blasio Turn the Tide? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6904:de-blasio-wrestles-with-homelessness-part-three-can-de-blasio-turn-the-tide http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6904:de-blasio-wrestles-with-homelessness-part-three-can-de-blasio-turn-the-tide de Blasio new homelessness plan

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


This is part three of a three-part series: De Blasio and Homelessness: A New Progressive Mayor Wrestles with an Old Social Problem, by Peter Nasaw and Thomas J. Main. [Jump to Part One: The Challenge of Homeless Policy or Part Two: Setbacks and Responses]

Part Three: Can de Blasio Turn the Tide on Homelessness?
In response to the growing shelter census, the de Blasio administration recently released a new plan, “Turning the Tide on Homelessness,” which features an ambitious proposal to build 90 new shelters within a five-year period, while ending the use of cluster sites and commercial hotels. The multipronged approach also touts the mayor’s success in enhancing shelter security and addressing code violations, which is particularly warranted given the state of disrepair found in many cluster site apartments.

A New Tone and New Shelters
Perhaps the most striking thing about the new plan is its tone, which is markedly more realistic than de Blasio’s campaign rhetoric. When he was a candidate, de Blasio’s determination that the city could indeed successfully take on the daunting problem of inequality raised expectations about what could be done to deal with homelessness. Now, his new plan tells us that “[w]e must be clear-eyed: it will take many years to reset the unacceptable status quo we see today...There are no silver bullets here. We will not solve this crisis overnight. It will be a long hard fight.”

The more realistic tone is certainly welcome. But wouldn’t it have been better to start out by lowering expectations, which de Blasio could have afforded to do given the big lead he enjoyed in the general election campaign?

If the city indeed succeeds in opening 90 new shelters, it says it will be able to end the use of commercial hotels and cluster site housing. But the greatest challenge to the construction of new shelters is community opposition. De Blasio’s new plan therefore calls for improved community relations and better outreach to community boards in order to curb resistance to new shelters.

Unfortunately, the mayor’s promises to consult communities thoroughly sound all too much like those of his mentor, David Dinkins, who in 1991 proposed to overcome local opposition to his plan of opening a mere 20 shelters through “Early and Meaningful Community Involvement,” “Fair Distribution of New Facilities Around the City,” and “Undertaking a Comprehensive Approach to Siting.” Dinkins’ plan was to win over hostile neighborhoods by being too impeccably fair to dispute. Communities would have none of it. The highly visible plan merely called attention to itself and gave communities an obvious target. The fact is, the less noticeable such siting efforts are, the easier they are for the city to accomplish.

Another problem for de Blasio’s plan is that where and how to place new shelters is in part governed by the city’s “Fair Share” law, which was incorporated into the City Charter in 1989. The law is outdated and confusing, and over the past 25 years, poor neighborhoods have in fact received more shelters than is equitable. In response to this unfairness, the City Council is now considering a proposal to reform the Fair Share law and push better-off communities to accept more shelters.

Fair enough, it would seem, but a disproportionate number of shelter residents come from those same poor communities. Locating more shelters in better-off neighborhoods would mean that more homeless people would be sheltered far away from their places of origin, a practice that advocacy groups such as Coalition for the Homeless already dislike. How the de Blasio administration will square this circle is not at all clear.

Conclusion
Two courses of action for the city seem desirable. One is to reform the CITYFEPS voucher program. As it stands, CITYFEPS may not meet its goals of rehousing families in appropriate apartments since units are not appropriately inspected. The practice of having CITYFEPS units inspected by potentially self-interested service providers should end. The responsibility of inspecting apartments should be taken over by HPD, which already has a set of standards that is enforceable, and staff trained and equipped to perform this function. If the reintegration of DHS and HRA is successful, perhaps better coordination with HPD and other agencies will improve the administration of CITYFEPS.

The cluster site program should end and the apartments it made use of should be converted into permanent housing for LINC voucher holders. But as IBO notes, the greatest challenge to this initiative is that the landlords will be paid half as much from LINC as they are already being paid to run a cluster site. Landlords are also reluctant to resume business relationships with the city after the fallout from the abrupt termination of the Advantage program in 2011. However, the city should be able to use the threat of withdrawing funding for cluster site housing as leverage in convincing landlords to participate in the LINC program.

The experience of the de Blasio administration also sheds light on two conceptual issues. One, it seems that the issue of perverse incentives needs to be reexamined. The studies that undermined the perverse incentive theory and cleared the way for the reintroduction of rent subsidies are now 18 years old and the issue needs to be revisited. The introduction of LINC was supposed to drive the census down, but it has in fact gone up, which does not imply causality but does suggest that the issue of how policy affects shelter demand deserves careful consideration. DHS needs to improve its forecasting ability to more accurately predict the likely results of changes in rent subsidies, eligibility, and other policies.

Also important is what recent experience with homelessness policy says about the prospects for the progressive coalition in New York City. A striking feature of city homelessness policy is that it was developed mostly under conservative mayors: Koch, Giuliani, and Bloomberg. From the beginning of modern homeless policy in the late 1970s to the end of Bloomberg’s tenure in 2013, the one-term mayoralty of David Dinkins was the only interregnum of progressive rule.

Coming to grips with homelessness proved difficult for Dinkins, who found that he had to rethink some of the progressive conceptions he had brought to the issue. Dinkins’ indecisiveness and his failure to make a dent in a problem he had decried as a candidate seemed to justify Giuliani’s criticism that progressives lacked the managerial skills necessary to govern New York City. De Blasio’s reelection prospects seem pretty good right now, but his lackluster record with an issue that was central to his political vision will not be helpful. To be fair, de Blasio was dealt a bad hand regarding the homeless problem, but he has not always played his cards well. The problem has not been fundamentally wrongheaded policy but lack of managerial and political deftness. Can progressives govern New York City? De Blasio’s so far disappointing record on homelessness does not help make the case they can.

This is part three of a three-part series, De Blasio and Homelessness: A New Progressive Mayor Wrestles with an Old Social Problem, by Peter Nasaw and Thomas J. Main.

Jump to Part One: The Challenge of Homeless Policy
Jump to Part Two: Setbacks and Responses

***
by Peter Nasaw and Thomas J. Main. Nasaw, MPA, LMSW, is an expert on homeless policy who has worked in the social services for several years. Main is a professor at the School of Public and International Affairs, Baruch College, City University of New York and author of Homelessness in New York City: Policymaking from Koch to de Blasio.

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De Blasio Wrestles with Homelessness -- Part Three: Can de Blasio Turn the Tide? Sun, 30 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
A Smart Move for Homeless Families, Neighborhood Residents and City Taxpayers http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6876:a-smart-move-for-homeless-families-neighborhood-residents-and-city-taxpayers http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6876:a-smart-move-for-homeless-families-neighborhood-residents-and-city-taxpayers de blasio mccray banks shelter

Mayor de Blasio visits Bellevue Men's Shelter (photo: Michael Appleton)


Residents of Manhattan’s Kips Bay neighborhood have been plagued in recent years by crimes attributed to clients of the 800 bed men’s shelter on East 30th Street and First Avenue.

Shelter clients have reportedly defecated in front of buildings, publicly masturbated, and exposed themselves to children in windows of classrooms. Since the shelter does not prohibit violent parolees or other criminals, neighborhood residents, as well as proprietors and customers of nearby businesses, have reported being raped, robbed, assaulted and stabbed by shelter clients. Fugitives and child sexual predators have hidden among shelter clients and, just recently, a man was arrested outside the shelter for alleged heroin sales.

Neighborhood residents are mindful of the homelessness crisis, and have willingly carried their share of the city’s burden for decades. But they also desire to preserve their quality of life and the safety of their community. They have long requested that the 30th Street shelter be re-purposed as a shelter for homeless families instead of single men.

A recent confluence of events should inspire the de Blasio administration, the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC), and Governor Cuomo to consider their proposal. It makes good sense for homeless families, city taxpayers, and the city’s budget watchdogs. As the mayor continues to roll out his new shelter plan, he should incorporate these ideas.

Consider these three developments:

1. Covenant House, the sanctuary for homeless youth, and the EDC have proposed development of the block containing its West Side headquarters, between West 40th and 41st Streets, Ninth and Tenth Avenues.

2. Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget released January 17 called for the sale of the Hunter College Masters of Fine Arts building on the Covenant House block so that “up to $60 million of the proceeds” can be used to fund the budget of the City University of New York.

3. City Comptroller Scott Stringer reported that New York City spent nearly $73 million on hotels for homeless families in the twelve months ending last October 31, sometimes paying as much as $600 per night for a room.

Housing homeless men in new or existing buildings on the Covenant House block on the West Side would free up the 30th Street men’s shelter for homeless families now housed at expensive Manhattan and outer-borough hotels. It would also offer an array of other benefits.

Any vacationer who has had to spend a night or two stuck at an airport hotel with young children knows how desolate they can be for youngsters. There is no play space, inside or out; no entertainment besides TV; and no real stimulation. Meals are limited to room service, the hotel restaurant, or take-out or delivery from a poor array of choices. Children are understandably “bouncing off the walls” within a few hours.

But New York’s homeless families can be left in hotel settings for weeks and months at a time.  On average, the city’s homeless families spend over 400 days in shelter before being moved to permanent homes.

A family-oriented homeless shelter at East 30th Street would allow homeless children access to common play and study space, nutritious institutional dining with other families, and parks, schools, churches, libraries, and the healthcare facilities of Kips Bay. They could be spared the social isolation that comes with living in a hotel and, instead, be integrated into a community of similarly situated children, as well as those of the neighborhood. Moreover, their parents could have ready, free, day-care in the shelter while getting help or finding a job.

Temporarily housing homeless men on the Covenant House block would place them in a largely commercial district near hotels and other transients. The city could consolidate social services for Covenant House clients, men’s shelter clients, and out-of-shelter homeless people who congregate near Port Authority Bus Terminal. Locating the men’s shelter near the NYPD stronghold of Times Square and near the borders of three police precincts would better deter criminal activity.

The Covenant House/EDC proposes their development include some affordable housing. But the site lays near the Lincoln Tunnel entrance and adjoins the PATH bus terminal ramp. It’s desolate and mostly unsuited to permanent housing; EDC should look elsewhere for affordable permanent residences. But it is a much better locale for temporarily housing homeless men than the bustling residential neighborhood of Kips Bay.

While it will certainly be necessary to renovate both the 30th Street shelter and the Hunter College building (or to build a new building, as Covenant House proposes), the savings from placing 200 to 300 homeless families in a community shelter instead of costly Manhattan hotels would recover those costs in just a few years and generate tens of millions in cost savings prospectively.

The de Blasio administration, Governor Cuomo, and the EDC should move thoughtfully and creatively on the Covenant House site. They have a rare chance to do good for homeless families and the residents of Kips Bay, and to do well for the taxpayers of New York.

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Lauren Pohl, an attorney, is the founder of Kidz Central Station. Thandi Gordon Stein-Sapir is a fashion industry executive. Both are leaders of Third and 33rd, a group that advocates for neighborhood safety and improvement.

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

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A Smart Move for Homeless Families, Neighborhood Residents and City Taxpayers Mon, 17 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
10 Key Data Points from Social Services Budget Hearing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6836:10-key-data-points-from-the-social-services-budget-hearing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6836:10-key-data-points-from-the-social-services-budget-hearing Corey Johnson hearing

City Council Member Corey Johnson (photo: William Alatriste)


The City Council General Welfare Committee conducted a budget hearing Monday to evaluate the programs, expenditures, and needs of the Human Resource Administration (HRA) and Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Steven Banks, Commissioner of the Department of Social Services (DSS), which oversees both HRA and DHS, provided testimony for the two agencies before taking questions from concerned Council members.

Though HRA provides a wide variety of services -- including job training and emergency food assistance -- the committee’s questioning focused almost exclusively on the city’s homelessness crisis and the lack of progress that has been made by the de Blasio administration.

“Is this something that New Yorkers are going to have to accept as a new norm?” asked Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the committee. “Are we to look ahead to future years and future generations and accept that the reality is that there are going to be 50,000 individuals and families living in our shelter system?”

There are currently about 60,000 New Yorkers living in homeless shelters, and Mayor Bill de Blasio recently outlined the goal of reducing the population to about 57,500 over five years. While the mayor has admitted that his administration has not made enough progress reducing homelessness, he argues that the population would be around 70,000 if not for the rent subsidy and anti-eviction measures his team, led by Banks, has implemented.

Responding to Levin and committee members, most of whom were late to the hearing, Banks provided a comprehensive rundown of the investments DSS and the de Blasio administration have instituted, such as voucher programs and legal assistance to tenants facing unwarranted eviction.

He also discussed the HOME-STAT initiative, which has doubled the number of outreach workers on city streets in order to bring people into shelter. Though the committee acknowledged its support for these measures and conceded that significant investment has been made, they nevertheless stressed their dissatisfaction -- often bordering on outrage -- with the lack of progress, especially considering the concentration of resources targeted at homelessness. Expenditures for HRA and DHS have ballooned under de Blasio, and the mayor is proposing more money for the fiscal year 2018 budget, which is due by July 1.

In his $84.67 billion preliminary budget proposal, 18 cents of every dollar goes to social services, the second largest portion behind education. The mayor has allocated $7.5 billion for the Department of Social Services and $772 million for the Department of Homeless Services, though both numbers are likely lower than the adopted budget will show at the end of June. 

At Monday's hearing, Council Members Barry Grodenchik, Corey Johnson, and Brad Lander were particularly critical of the administration’s efforts.

“It seems to me that this city has committed an immense amount of resources and...it doesn’t seem like we’re getting value for our dollars,” Grodenchik told Banks, questioning both the effectiveness and scope of the administration’s plan to stop using 360 cluster apartment and commercial hotel locations and open 90 new homeless shelters throughout the city. “It seems to me that the goal is not as ambitious as it needs to be.”

Banks defended “a concrete and realistic goal.”

Lander expressed frustration that is shared by de Blasio, his predecessor on the Council, and other stakeholders. “On the one hand I appreciate being realistic, on the other I appreciate that this is an absolute crisis and we need to do more,” Lander said, before proceeding to recommend that Banks and his team focus on “getting families into affordable, permanent public housing.”

The notion of placing more homeless families into public housing, through NYCHA, is something that some elected officials and advocates have long-called for, but that Banks and de Blasio have said is not the right approach. The mayor has cited the already-long NYCHA wait-lists.

“It’s disturbing to walk down the streets everyday and to see homeless people on nearly every block...even after all these efforts at homelessness prevention, it still feels like we are not being successful,” added Council Member Johnson, who represents Chelsea and Greenwich Village.

Banks’ testimony touched on other important DSS initiatives, in addition to homelessness, and provided updated data points on a variety of key topics:

--The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps feed 1.7 million New Yorkers, including more than 650,000 children, added 8,371 participants in the last year. Asked about the future of SNAP in New York City, given the uncertain prospects for federal funding under the Trump administration, Banks said that he and the mayor would be working with Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to retain SNAP funding for New York City recipients.

--According to Banks’ testimony, HRA provided rental assistance to 58,100 households in 2016 at a cost of $214 million. Asked about the widespread problem of landlords refusing to honor rental assistance programs and vouchers, Banks provided a phone number that residents can now call if they experience such refusal. Banks said HRA is determined to identify non-compliant landlords and compile a database of these individuals.

--Banks’ testimony also explained that HRA has eliminated the Work Experience Programs (WEP) in favor of Job Training Program slots at NYPD, Parks Department, Department of Sanitation, and Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). The programs will serve up to 210 cash assistance participants annually.

--The HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) accepted 3,444 new clients from August 2016 through January 2017, which is 1,410 more than the same period from the previous year. This was result of an HIV expansion program that allowed “all financially-eligible New York City residents with HIV to seek and obtain HASA services.” Applicants previously had to have developed AIDS or be “symptomatic” to be eligible. Council Member Johnson, who chairs the health committee, spoke about the success of HASA as a key achievement.

--Banks’ testimony also announced a DHS plan to add 10,000 affordable apartments specifically for seniors, veterans, and New Yorkers earning less than $40,000 per household. DHS also has plans to institute an Elder Rental Assistance program, to be funded through the mayor’s “mansion tax,” to help more than 25,000 seniors with monthly rental assistance of up to $1,300. The mansion tax is unlikely to be approved in Albany, though.

--In 2016, DHS placed 3,153 homeless veterans in permanent housing.

--30% of families with children in a DHS shelter have a history of domestic violence. The Fiscal Year 2017 budget included $217 million for DHS security purposes.

--Banks also referenced the 24% drop in evictions citywide since the institution of free legal assistance programs for many New Yorkers facing eviction. More than 40,000 residents avoided eviction in 2015 and 2016. The mayor and the City Council recently agreed to expand such assistance further.

--Banks provided figures to demonstrate why the city has struggled to contain its homelessness problem. Between 2000 and 2014, Banks testified, median rent has increased 19%, while household income decreased by 6.3% over the same period.

--360,000 New Yorkers now spend more than 50% of their income on rent and utilities. Another 140,000 spend more than 30%.

--All in all, homelessness has increased by 115% over the past two decades. In 1994, 23,868 New Yorkers were homeless, by 2014, when Mayor de Blasio took office, that number was 51,470. It is now around 60,000.

Banks' testimony was followed by the General Welfare Committee's examination of the Administration for Children's Services.

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by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

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10 Key Data Points from Social Services Budget Hearing Mon, 27 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
95 Faith Leaders Join Push for Passage of State Rent Subsidy Proposal http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6831:95-faith-leaders-join-push-for-passage-of-state-rent-subsidy-proposal http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6831:95-faith-leaders-join-push-for-passage-of-state-rent-subsidy-proposal church prayer

Prayer at Cavalry Baptist Church (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


As New York City battles a homelessness crisis, with 60,000 people in shelters, a statewide proposal to drastically reduce and prevent homelessness is gaining groundswell support. On Monday, dozens of faith leaders from across the state signed a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo, calling his attention to that plan, the Home Stability Support program.

The HSS proposal, sponsored by Democratic Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi of Queens, would replace the state’s existing patchwork system of rental subsidies with a single supplement for families and individuals who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. It would apply to those receiving public assistance and people facing evictions or homelessness because of hazardous living conditions or domestic violence.

“The problem of homelessness has reached a critical juncture,” reads the letter signed by 95 faith leaders from 15 cities across the state. “The costs to our communities are unsustainable. It is time to boldly and adequately attack the preventable causes of record homelessness.”

The HSS proposal would provide state funding to bridge the gap between state shelter allowances (rental supplements given to those on public assistance, which are between $264 and $447 a month depending on household size) and up to 85 percent of the household’s fair market rent. It would also give local jurisdictions the option to raise that supplement to 100 percent.

“This is a hard one to oppose,” said Marc Greenberg, executive director of the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing and one of the leaders on the letter to Cuomo. “It’s a choice between keeping a family in a welfare hotel for $3,500 or more a month, as opposed to paying $1,500 to $2,000 to keep them in their homes.”

A spokesperson for the governor’s office said they are reviewing the proposal, which has strong support in the Democratically-controlled Assembly, but a less than favorable outlook in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed support for the plan, which would drastically overhaul the fight against homelessness, but has said he is not counting on its passage. He has continued to call out the state for its limited help in preventing homelessness going back several years, and pushed ahead with his own multi-pronged effort that has seen limited results -- de Blasio’s combination of rental subsidies and eviction-protection efforts have helped stabilize the rise in homelessness and prevented the homeless population from hitting 70,000, which is where his office says it would be if not for its programs.

De Blasio recently outlined a new approach to sheltering homeless New Yorkers, and announced that a new, more sober goal of reducing the shelter population to about 57,500 over the next five years.

The HHS proposal, which would cost the state about $450 million a year, could be a game-changer. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has estimated that it could reduce the city’s shelter population by 80 percent in 10 years for families with children and by 60 percent for adult families. It would also save the city $316.6 million in the same time by keeping people out of shelters.

To ease concerns about the price tag, Assembly Democrats opted to phase the program in over five years, at an initial cost of $40 million in the first year, which they included in their one-house budget resolution last week. “I see it as a no-brainer,” said Assembly Member Hevesi, in a brief phone interview. “I haven’t heard any objection that we couldn’t counter. You’re helping vulnerable people get off the streets and stay off the streets.”

Hevesi said he’s had productive conversations with Republican Senators about the proposal and has met with the governor to discuss it. He’s optimistic about its prospects. “I think we’re in a good place for now,” he said.

The proposal has significant support from elected representatives and community advocates -- four of New York City’s five borough presidents also announced their support this week. But, to pass the plan must meet approval from not just the state Assembly, but also Cuomo and the Senate.

Significantly, state Senator Jeff Klein, who leads the Senate Independent Democratic Conference, has announced his support for the subsidy proposal. Klein, who also recently expressed opposition to de Blasio’s shelter siting plans, sees HHS as smart economically and for communities. The IDC mentioned the proposal in its own Senate budget resolution, but the Senate majority did not.

“We included it in our budget proposal and believe it's critically important to help citizens access adequate housing,” said Mike Whyland, spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, in an email. “That is our goal as we negotiate the final budget.”

Spokespersons for the Senate majority and the IDC did not respond to requests for comment.

“The federal landscape is changing, and whatever funds we’re using could be used more effectively this way,” said Greenberg, of the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing. “The governor would be wise to support this.”

For the coalition of faith leaders, support for the program transcends politics as they fight the homelessness battle on the frontlines. “It cannot be politics as usual when it comes to people’s lives,” said Greenberg. “What the faith community is trying to do is remind lawmakers of the demands of their own faith...If you say you have faith, what does your faith challenge you to do?"

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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95 Faith Leaders Join Push for Passage of State Rent Subsidy Proposal Thu, 23 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Comptroller Criticizes Mayor for 'Out Of Control' Homelessness Spending, Limited Agency Savings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6760:comptroller-hits-mayor-on-out-of-control-homelessness-spending-paltry-agency-savings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6760:comptroller-hits-mayor-on-out-of-control-homelessness-spending-paltry-agency-savings stringer 2

Comptroller Scott Stringer presents his budget analysis (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


Comptroller Scott Stringer blasted aspects of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget for fiscal year 2018 on Wednesday, taking issue with the mayor’s homelessness strategy and what Stringer described as a dearth of savings for city agencies.

Speaking to reporters at his offices on 1 Center Street, the comptroller said the city’s economy continues to be strong but warned of the challenges from an economic slowdown after years of sustained growth, the effects of which are already being felt. The risks are especially high, he said, with President Donald Trump’s threats of funding cuts to the city and the inadequate cushion of city reserves.

The comptroller, a frequent critic of the mayor who may challenge de Blasio on the ballot, was most critical of the administration’s spending on homelessness with little to show in the way of results. “The lack of progress for our homeless families and failure to change the status quo is deeply concerning to me and to all New Yorkers,” he said. “The crisis is growing, it is not receding.”

The city has seen an explosion in homelessness over the last three years, with the number of homeless people in the shelter system crossing 60,000 late last year. In the 2017 fiscal year, ending June 30, the city will have spent $2.3 billion on tackling the issue, up from $1.17 billion in fiscal year 2014, the comptroller estimated. The revised budget for the Department of Homeless Services alone is $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2017, an increase of more than 390 million since the budget was originally adopted. Mayor de Blasio, in his State of the City speech on Monday, briefly acknowledged that his administration has more to do on tackling homelessness, but provided no details, promising to address it in the coming days.

The comptroller, in his presentation, questioned that lack of a cohesive policy, stressing that City Hall has not been forthcoming with data or progress reports. He noted that the Department of Homeless Services online dashboard has not been updated in over a year. In particular, he faulted the administration’s “out of control” spending on emergency shelters at commercial hotels, which reached $102 million in the 2016 calendar year. “We need transparency people, we need to understand this so we can actually get to the root of the crisis because we can’t spend blindly without seeing results,” he said.

Stringer also emphasized that the city needs to increase its savings and reserves by identifying greater efficiencies in city agencies. Under de Blasio, agencies have voluntarily identified savings each year through the Citywide Savings Program. Stringer supports the program, which saved $2.1 billion this year, but said the scope of savings is insufficient. “City agencies must do more to scrub their budgets and operations to identify more savings and efficiencies to help address our risks,” he said, pointing out that prior to 2014, agencies contributed 2.7 percent on average to the city’s savings in a year, compared to 1 percent under Mayor de Blasio. “The more they scrub, the more they’ll save,” he said.

These reserves will be particularly crucial if the Trump administration should follow through on its proposed cuts to sanctuary city funding, the comptroller pointed out. New York City could lose as much as $7 billion, which would “rip up our social safety net,” Stringer said. Overall, he insists that the city’s budget cushion -- the reserves and surplus funds at the beginning of the fiscal year -- should be between 12 and 18 percent of city expenditures. Currently, the city has a cushion of only $8.5 billion or 10 percent for fiscal year 2018.

Stringer did praise the mayor for initiatives in the budget that he has supported, including funding for 300 new school crossing guards, providing bullet-resistant windows for all NYPD patrol cars and committing $1 billion for roof repairs at 729 NYCHA buildings.

Stringer’s criticism wasn’t just limited to the mayor’s preliminary budget. Asked about de Blasio’s State of the City commitment to create 100,000 jobs over the next ten years, Stringer said, “I don’t think people truly understood what he was talking about,” noting that the city had created 90,000 jobs a year on average since 2009.

“We do that yearly,” he said. “To talk about a plan over ten years to create 100,000 jobs, to do that over 10 years is just an empty promise and it’s certainly not enough...It makes no sense in my view.” He recommended a “holistic” approach to job creation, by addressing homelessness, building affordable housing and pushing economic development through investments in women- and minority-owned businesses.

Mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips sharply rebuked the comptroller’s broad critique. “The comptroller has criticized universal pre-K, equipping officers with body cameras, unprecedented highs in affordable housing and job creation, a balanced budget with record savings, and sweeping investments in homelessness prevention,” Phillips said, in a statement. “City Hall shares the public’s wonderment at what exactly the Comptroller's fighting for.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Comptroller Criticizes Mayor for 'Out Of Control' Homelessness Spending, Limited Agency Savings Thu, 16 Feb 2017 06:45:27 +0000