Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/519 Fri, 15 Dec 2017 02:34:11 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Increasingly Paying Back Rent to Keep Tenants from Homelessness http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7326:city-increasingly-paying-back-rent-to-keep-tenants-from-homelessness http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7326:city-increasingly-paying-back-rent-to-keep-tenants-from-homelessness de Blasio homelessness

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Increasingly Paying Back Rent to Keep Tenants from Homelessness Wed, 15 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
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
Opposing Shelters Won’t End the Housing Crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6509:opposing-shelters-won-t-end-the-housing-crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6509:opposing-shelters-won-t-end-the-housing-crisis Crowley Maspeth shelter

Council Member Crowley opposes a shelter in Maspeth (photo via Twitter)


On Wednesday night I attended my community board meeting on a proposed homeless shelter in Maspeth, Queens. The city Commissioner of Social Services, Steve Banks, was there, along with hundreds of residents who are against the shelter. I was one of just a handful of homeless and housing rights advocates in the audience.

Though I was horrified by the residents who chose to stigmatize our homeless community – describing them as criminals, drug dealers, welfare hogs, and addicts, and questioning their immigration status – I was most struck by the vehement energy this community has thrown behind this cause, somehow believing that the community is exempt from the city’s housing crisis.

Homelessness is not an isolated issue. Homelessness is a product of the broader housing crisis – a crisis that is having an impact across the city in endless ways: gentrifying neighborhoods, segregating communities, and increasing income disparity, just to name a few. Keeping a homeless shelter out of your community does not solve problems.

At one point, a speaker shouted, “de Blasio brought this social engineering experiment to the wrong community!” But the “social engineering experiment” has been lingering in this community for years. Long before Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Banks came along, decades of failed government policies built the foundation of the housing crisis we’re living in today. Be it the loss of manufacturing industries and union jobs in the 1970s and 1980s, a state-sponsored shelter allowance for low-income households that has remained the same since the 1980s, quality-of-life policing of poor communities of color, and slashes to drug education and support programs, the city’s housing and homeless crisis was long in the making. This is what Mayor de Blasio inherited – this mess is what Commissioner Banks is urgently trying to reverse with limited resources, limited support from the State, and within a limited timeframe.

While failed policies have propelled the housing crisis, a lack of commitment and leadership from our elected officials has kept us from halting its momentum. Promising to preserve the “quality-of-life” of residents, Queens City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley has helped legitimize NIMBYism in Maspeth.

On Wednesday Crowley’s office announced a lawsuit against the City over the proposal to open the shelter. Rather than becoming an elected official who is actively involved in the fight to end homelessness and the housing crisis, Crowley falls sorely short by opposing the creation of the first homeless shelter in the jurisdiction of Community Board 5.

Meanwhile, at the state level, eight months have gone by since Governor Cuomo made a commitment to build 20,000 units of supportive housing, and there has not been enough movement. Supportive housing is a crucial source of housing that pairs permanent housing with on-site services. Research has shown time and again that it is the most successful (and cost-effective) way to end homelessness for individuals living with disabilities or other special needs.

Since the 1990s, New York City and State have made a joint commitment to fund supportive housing. While few Maspeth residents mentioned the need for support and services for homeless individuals, most are likely unaware that our governor is currently sitting on nearly $2 billion set aside in the state budget for crucial housing, including supportive housing. Only a small portion of the funds have been allocated.

It’s worth mentioning here that the City has made true to its commitment.

With 80,000 homeless statewide and thousands more living on the streets, in three-quarter houses, doubled up in apartments and in other precarious housing, it’s incomprehensible that our governor continues to pay so little attention to this crisis. It’s also unconscionable that people in our communities are turning their backs on city officials working to combat the homelessness and housing crises, and on their fellow New Yorkers in need.

What I saw last night was a crowd of people who know little about what has propelled us into this housing crisis in first place; they know little about the needs of the homeless community in New York, and they are not willing to learn about either. Imagine where we might be if instead of vehemently opposing a shelter, the community put equal effort into fighting for truly affordable housing for the New Yorkers who need it the most.

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Paulette Soltani is a community organizer with VOCAL-NY, a grassroots organization that builds power among low-income people impacted by homelessness, HIV/AIDS, drug use, and mass incarceration. She is a resident of Community Board 5 in Queens.

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Opposing Shelters Won’t End the Housing Crisis Thu, 01 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Mixed Bag in Latest Government Efforts Fighting Homelessness, Providers Say http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6411:mixed-bag-in-latest-government-efforts-fighting-homelessness-advocates-say http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6411:mixed-bag-in-latest-government-efforts-fighting-homelessness-advocates-say coalition for the homeless protest


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

Listen to our conversation:

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Mixed Bag in Latest Government Efforts Fighting Homelessness, Providers Say Fri, 24 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000