Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/276 Fri, 18 Oct 2019 04:29:18 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) To End the Homelessness Crisis It’s Time to Refocus the City’s Housing Plan - Here’s How https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8859-end-homelessness-crisis-refocus-city-housing-plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8859-end-homelessness-crisis-refocus-city-housing-plan homelessness rally

The authors and others at a rally (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


More than 61,000 men, women, and children will sleep in New York City shelters tonight, and this historic homelessness crisis will continue to devastate the lives of even more people unless Mayor de Blasio embraces the common sense plans that we have put forward from a City Council office and the Coalition for the Homeless, respectively.

The record number of homeless New Yorkers will continue to reach new highs every year, according to the latest report from the Coalition. In stark contrast to Mayor de Blasio’s predicted decrease in the shelter census of a mere 2,500 people by 2022, the Coalition’s analysis shows that the number of city residents living in shelters will increase by 5,000 people in that time period.

While the mayor often touts the work his administration has done to prevent homelessness and protect tenants, his failure to meaningfully reduce the shelter census is a direct result of the lack of truly affordable apartments created specifically to house homeless New Yorkers. This is why the House Our Future NY Campaign, with the support of the majority of the New York City Council, has spent more than a year and a half calling on Mayor de Blasio to make his Housing New York 2.0 plan -- badly in need of a third iteration -- address the true scale of the homelessness crisis.

Of the 300,000 apartments the Housing New York 2.0 plan will create or preserve by 2026, only 15,000 apartments will be set aside for homeless New Yorkers – and just 6,000 of those will be created through new construction. The remaining 9,000 of those apartments in the mayor’s plan will be set aside for homeless New Yorkers through the preservation of already-occupied units, which will remain unavailable to homeless New Yorkers for many years.

To address the housing needs of our homeless neighbors, the House Our Future NY Campaign, formed by the Coalition and 66 partner organizations, urges Mayor de Blasio to create 24,000 apartments through new construction (about 20 percent of all planned new construction in Housing New York 2.0) and preserve at least 6,000 more units for a total of 30,000 apartments for homeless New Yorkers.

In the Bronx, we have seen how the issue of homelessness impacts people firsthand. Many hurtful and false narratives have been spread about people in the shelter system, primarily that individuals are unemployed or are looking for handouts. To the contrary, many in the system have full-time jobs or are living on fixed-incomes and turn to the shelter system as a last resort because of rising rents in their communities. Once in the system, people face a lengthy wait to be placed in permanent housing due to a lack of truly affordable housing.

To address this issue and the staggering number of individuals and families in the shelter system, we introduced legislation, Intro. 1211, which requires all new housing developments that receive city financial assistance to set aside at least 15 percent of new apartments for homeless households.

Working together to raise awareness on this proposal, Intro. 1211 has secured a veto-proof majority of Council members signed on as co-sponsors, as well as the support of Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. While an overwhelming number of homeless advocates came out in support of the bill at a public hearing held in December 2018, the de Blasio administration declared its opposition to the bill, citing financial concerns. But we have demonstrated that more affordable housing can be built for homeless New Yorkers than is conceptualized in the mayor’s plan.

Starting in April 2018 while drafting the language for Intro. 1211, we began requiring developers who were looking to build housing in Council District 17 in the Bronx to set aside a minimum of 15 percent of developed units for homeless individuals and families. Despite the administration’s insistence that the financing would not work, we were able to secure a 15 percent homeless set-aside in every new construction project that required our Council approval.

In total, our Council office approved 121 new set-aside units over eight projects. While this number of units is a drop in the bucket of the overall need for our homeless population, it shows the impact this legislation could have in changing the tide on homelessness if implemented across New York City.

We are pleased that Intro. 1211 is already having a positive effect on the movement to build more housing for homeless people. Many Council colleagues have begun requiring a 15 percent set-aside minimum in projects in their own districts. With a citywide policy to substantially increase new housing built for homeless New Yorkers, we would be able to move more people out of city shelters and achieve the goal of reaching the 24,000 new units the House Our Future NY Campaign is advocating for.

We cannot continue to accept mass homelessness in our city as a fact of life. We have the means to alleviate the suffering of tens of thousands of homeless New Yorkers by building more deeply subsidized affordable housing to match the scale of the need. In addition to being the moral thing to do, the New York City Council has demonstrated through its support of the House Our Future NY Campaign and Intro. 1211 that it is entirely feasible. Now it is time for Mayor de Blasio to finally address the ongoing homelessness crisis with the best tool available: building new affordable apartments for homeless New Yorkers.

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City Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr. represents parts of the Bronx. Giselle Routhier is Policy Director at Coalition for the Homeless. On Twitter @Salamancajr80 & @Giselle_Ashley.

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

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To End the Homelessness Crisis It’s Time to Refocus the City’s Housing Plan - Here’s How Thu, 17 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: The City's Fight Against Homelessness https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8798-max-murphy-podcast-new-york-city-homelessness-de-blasio-banks https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8798-max-murphy-podcast-new-york-city-homelessness-de-blasio-banks bellevue intake wbai600

Steve Banks, right, with the Mayor and First Lady (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


September 18, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: The City's Fight Against Homelessness

dss commissioner banks wbai 150Steve Banks, Commissioner of the Department of Social Services and Mayor de Blasio's homelessness czar, joined the show to discuss the city's fight against homelessness, the progress he believes the city has made over the past five-plus years since de Blasio took office and named him to head the Human Resources Administration (HRA), and more.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Max & Murphy Podcast: The City's Fight Against Homelessness Wed, 18 Sep 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Addressing the Growing Problem of Senior Homelessness https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8760-addressing-the-growing-problem-of-senior-homelessness https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8760-addressing-the-growing-problem-of-senior-homelessness address grow p

(photo: WSFSSH)


The conversation around affordable housing in New York largely focuses on ensuring that working people can continue to live here.  

Bus drivers, healthcare workers, elementary school teachers -- too few of the people who fulfill some of our city’s key services can afford a market-rate one-bedroom apartment within city limits. It’s inarguably a crisis that threatens the fundamental quality of our city, as well as its continued economic growth.

But another tidal wave is growing that deserves equal attention: as baby boomers retire and reach old age, a growing number of seniors -- on fixed incomes, many of them with ongoing health care needs -- are finding themselves homeless. 

The population of single adults 65-and-older living in shelters has doubled since January 2014 to over 1,400 people. A UPenn study estimated that this population could grow to nearly 7,000 by 2030.  

Homelessness hits seniors particularly hard: without a permanent address, it becomes harder to secure necessary medications, and the likelihood of senior abuse rises significantly. Social isolation has cascading impacts on emotional and physical wellbeing.

Homelessness increases an individual’s risk of mortality, and homeless individuals 50- to 62-years-old often have healthcare needs more likely in later age -- like problems with vision, mobility, and hearing, as well as falls. 

How we address this crisis gets at the heart of who we are as a city.

The Mayor’s Office and City Council have made some inroads in building affordable housing for independent, low-income seniors, with over 989 units built to date during the de Blasio administration and another 2,986 in the pipeline, which will expand to roughly 5,000 units -- but homeless seniors have very specific support needs, and more can be done to develop and operate permanent affordable supportive housing catered to them. 

A 320-unit, three-building affordable senior housing campus known as Tres Puentes/Borinquen Court, which opened at the end of May and is operated by long-time supportive housing developer the West Side Federation of Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH), which I run, may provide a model.

Diverse groups in the South Bronx worked together to ensure the successful navigation of some of the city’s most complex urban development challenges in service of the project, which, now that it’s open, not only provides top-tier services for seniors, but does so in a space that the neighborhood can be proud of.  

Here’s three key lessons we’ve learned through the development and operation of this campus that may be replicable for other senior housing in the Bronx and across the city: 

First, for successful development, create strong local partnerships.  

It’s an unfortunate reality of our city that residential communities can be suspicious of new affordable housing. By bringing everyone to the table from day one, from residents to developers, community members and government, you can build a coalition to support new development in service of area seniors. You can address fears before they become real roadblocks to bringing needed housing online.

Strong coalitions are also more likely to successfully troubleshoot some of New York’s most vexing challenges on the road to development -- like overcoming infrastructural surprises that are the result of historic disinvestment and comprehensively addressing environmental remediation needs.   

Second, embrace bold design choices. 

Shirking the institutional aesthetic to weave in design elements practiced more traditionally in market-rate residential projects typically reserved for individuals of higher socioeconomic status has multiple benefits -- from adding architectural diversity into the neighborhood to showcasing to residents that their comfort matters.  

Bright colors and double-height ceilings make the space cheerful and welcoming, a place for seniors to feel elevated and connected to their community. The building is adorned with a corrugated veneer popular in modern design, evoking the neighborhood’s industrial past and creating an inviting façade. 

Aesthetics matter, not just to residents and staff, but to the neighbors who pass the site every day. Thoughtful aesthetics are a reminder that affordable housing can be an integral part of our communities, that its residents are our neighbors, worthy of identifying with and fighting for. 

Third, invest in unique social services for seniors.

Housing homeless seniors is a start; but to help truly end the homelessness crisis among seniors, comprehensive social services that get at the unique needs of the age group are a must. These social needs can only be addressed in supportive housing, of which there is so little.

Every angle of seniors’ social needs must be addressed as part of any new supportive housing development.

Financial coaching can not only prevent abuse and scams, but help navigate local and national systems for health care and entitlements. 

Exercise regimens should be catered to the age group, focusing on muscle retention and flexibility as well as other medically-indicated activities.  

On-staff social workers and partner health providers must specialize in senior issues like dementia and depression, and complex social challenges with adult children and friends.  

But it’s not just addressing crisis; with proper support, today’s seniors can live fuller, longer lives.  By investing in smart development to address seniors’ needs, we can ensure that they live lives more connected to their communities. 

With a commitment to high-quality housing New York can lead the way in empathetic and thoughtful care for seniors, solving its senior housing crisis for good.

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Paul Freitag is Executive Director of West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH).

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

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Addressing the Growing Problem of Senior Homelessness Tue, 27 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
As Cuomo and Heastie Trade Comments on Anti-Poverty Efforts, a Closer Look at What They've Done https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8693-as-cuomo-and-heastie-trade-comments-on-anti-poverty-efforts-a-closer-look-at-what-they-ve-done https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8693-as-cuomo-and-heastie-trade-comments-on-anti-poverty-efforts-a-closer-look-at-what-they-ve-done albany gov cuomo carl heastie

Speaker Heastie & Governor Cuomo (photo: the governor's office)


Despite previously lauding the 2019 state legislative session as the “most productive session in modern political history,” Governor Andrew Cuomo went on to call the session “not progressive enough,” citing a need “to do more on poverty.”

At his celebratory, mostly upbeat end-of-session press conference on June 21, Cuomo was asked about what did not get done, and cited three issues he said he would work on next year: legalizing adult-use marijuana and paid gestational surrogacy, and expanding prevailing wage requirements on construction projects that receive state incentives. He did not mention poverty.

But just three days later during a radio appearance, Cuomo questioned whether the legislative session was “progresive enough,” and rhetorically asked WAMC’s The Roundtable host Alan Chartock, “what happened, doctor, to discussion of poverty and civil rights and the minority community?”

It was an apparently off-hand comment that seemed to catch many people by surprise, especially Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat whose district is in the Bronx, which is home to some of the highest poverty rates in the country.

While Cuomo has made significant strides with anti-poverty policies in the past, most notably the minimum wage hike he ushered through a split Legislature in 2016, the third-term Democratic governor did not push any landmark anti-poverty legislation or initiatives this session, which featured a long list of other progressive accomplishments with Democrats in control of both legislative houses for the first time in many years.

Soon after Cuomo’s comment about the session lacking a focus on poverty, Heastie was asked about it.

“If we’re talking about things like poverty, that necessitates putting more money in the budget,” Heastie said on June 25, appearing on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom with host Susan Arbetter. “If that’s the governor’s sentiment, next year we should see a robust poverty agenda in the executive budget,” he said.

When asked about the Assembly’s anti-poverty efforts, Heastie mentioned boosting community college enrollment and said such schooling can serve as a key stepping stone to the workforce.

“Every place has a different type of industry, and community colleges can put together training linked with local businesses,” Heastie said on Capitol Pressroom.

In New York, 2,908,471 people live in poverty, according to the New York State Community Action Association in its 2019 annual poverty report. That’s about 15% of the state’s 19.8 million residents; a rate just above the U.S. poverty rate of 14.6%. For white New Yorkers, the poverty rate is 11%, while it jumps to 22.5% for black New Yorkers and 24.4% for Hispanic New Yorkers. Of the 1.8 million adult New Yorkers with no high school diploma, 29% live in poverty.

Though they give both Cuomo and Heastie’s Assembly majority credit for significant steps toward fighting poverty in New York, advocates and other experts believe both have indeed been lacking in moving a number of anti-poverty measures.

Several proposed anti-poverty bills have stalled in the Assembly, and those that have passed the Assembly have not been signed into law by Cuomo, in part due to a lack of support by the governor, who was friendly with the Republican Senate majority that ruled the upper legislative chamber for all of the governor’s first two terms.

As Heastie indicated, some see the need for more state spending on anti-poverty measures, which may only be possible through tax increases, which Cuomo generally opposes. Some say a significant roadblock to many anti-poverty programs is the 2 percent cap on annual state spending increases that Cuomo has insisted on, though he has repeatedly broken that pledge. Still, Cuomo has largely kept state agency operational spending flat year over year and is loathe to add new expensive programs to the budget, especially those that don’t fit his carefully crafted agenda.

But while he has not supported key policies that advocates say would help fight poverty in New York, Cuomo has moved several significant anti-poverty measures, from the minimum wage hike to the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI), which provides state grants to localities to fund anti-poverty efforts, to the creation of the Child Care Availability Task Force, which is currently studying how to make childcare more affordable in New York.

Heastie said on Capitol Pressroom that the Assembly focuses on high poverty communities and tries to find ways to revitalize them, including through working with Cuomo to add localities to the ESPRI. Most parties point to the state’s high levels of local education funding as evidence of efforts to fight poverty through educational investments, but that focus has been criticized, even by Assembly Democrats, who believe the state owes billions in funding to poor schools, and Cuomo, who recently started saying he wants more state funding to go to poorer schools without corresponding increases to wealthier schools.

During Heastie’s four years as speaker thus far, the Assembly has pushed anti-poverty efforts, including as a key force behind the minimum wage increase and the paid family leave program that also passed the same year. But there are also some question marks.

In January 2016, Heastie announced an “Anti-Poverty Work Group,” with the goal of finding “ways to break the vicious cycle that forces people to focus on getting by and never allows them to focus on getting ahead,” he said in the press release. The work group consisted of 13 Assembly members, and was specifically tasked with coming up with ideas to improve nutrition, literacy, supportive housing, shelters, rental assistance, fair labor practices, and job training, and increase access to quality child care and health care.

However, little came of the work group -- there’s no other record of its existence in Assembly press release archives or on the Assembly website more broadly.

The work group was organized with the goal of breaking “down the silos we deal with in the Assembly,” Queens Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi, who served on the work group and has chaired the chamber’s social services committee, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

According to Hevesi, when former Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle left the Assembly at the end of 2018, the work group “fell off the top of everybody’s radar.” But even that would have been nearly three years after the group’s creation, and Morelle did not serve as its chair. Hevesi said the group had only a “couple of meetings.”

Anti-Poverty Initiatives Left on the Table
There are a variety of anti-poverty measures that could be considered by the Legislature and Cuomo. For example, a proposed bill aimed at reducing homelessness would have created a homeless housing task force by each social services district in the state to “develop a ten-year homeless housing plan addressing short-term and long-term housing for homeless persons,” according to the bill. The bill has not moved in the Assembly social services committee.

Anti-poverty measures can be bipartisan. Republican Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb is the lead sponsor on a bill to raise the state earned income tax credit (EITC) from 30 percent to 45 percent of the federal level. Currently, a family with three or more children can earn a maximum of $8,682 in their EITC, and a filer without children can earn a maximum of $701 in their EITC, including state, city, and federal credits, according to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. Another Assembly bill would expand the EITC to include workers who are 18-24 years old, a demographic that is currently not eligible for the EITC. The state EITC was last raised by Republican Governor George Pataki in 2003.

Neither the Assembly nor the Senate took up state EITC expansion this year.

That Assembly Republicans are leading the fight to raise the EITC is “both ironic and shameful,” said Ron Deutsch, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a think tank, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “For the Assembly minority to be to the left of the governor on an issue like this really speaks to the fact that the governor is far more fiscally conservative than he paints himself,” he said.

According to data from the Fiscal Policy Institute, 85,345 young adult workers in the state that would be eligible for the childless EITC are currently excluded because they cannot be claimed as a dependent. These workers earn less than $15,270 as single filers or less than $20,900 as married filers.

Another proposed anti-poverty bill, championed by Hevesi, is known as Home Stability Support (HSS) and would increase rent supplements to families at risk of eviction, homelessness, or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous living conditions. While the Assembly has pushed HSS for several years, it has not made it into the state budget, apparently due to Cuomo’s opposition.

HSS is widely seen as a way to prevent homelessness, and has many backers in both city and state government, as well as the advocacy community. According to data from the Assembly Committee on Social Services’ annual report, each year about 250,000 New Yorkers experience homelessness, and three of five homeless New Yorkers are school-aged children. In 2018, 23,000 more people became homeless, the report says. The number of homeless school-aged children has grown by 69% since 2011 (Cuomo’s first year as governor).

According to data from city Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office, over 10 years HSS could reduce the shelter population in New York City by 80 percent among families with children, 60 percent among adult families, and 40 percent among single adults. As Hevesi and others regularly point out, the cost of HSS subsidies are projected to be recouped in savings where governments spend less on shelters and other aspects of the social safety net.

HSS is projected to cost $9,865 per year for an individual in New York City, $7,320 per year for an individual in Westchester County, and $2,784 per year for an individual in Monroe County, according to data from the proposed plan. HSS advocates argue that the legislation would save the state money, as it would keep individuals and families out of shelters, which cost significantly more per individual per year to maintain. Providing an individual with temporary housing, or shelters, costs $25,925 per year in New York City,  $36,000 per year in Westchester County, and $10,950 in Monroe County, according to data from the plan.

The legislation has had support in both houses, but not enough to move it through both and to the governor. Neither majority appeared to make it a priority this year as the Legislature moved a long agenda of progressive bills.

“Home Stability Support will be a lifeline for thousands of New Yorkers to avoid falling into the cycle of homelessness, and it will also save millions of dollars for towns, counties and cities throughout the state,” State Senator Liz Krueger said in a press release supporting HSS.

Hevesi said that the reason the bill has never been passed is that Cuomo is against it. However, Hevesi said he is confident that the bill will get passed eventually, either legislatively or in the budget.

“It was in the Assembly one-house budget, Senate one-house budget, and the governor unilaterally stopped it,” Hevesi told Gotham Gazette.

HSS has been supported by a number of advocacy groups fighting poverty and homelessness in the state. Still, there was no clear, concerted effort by the Assembly and Senate majorities to push HSS over the finish line and into the state budget before it was voted through on April 1.

“Unfortunately over the past several years, in our advocacy to pass HSS, the governor has been one of the primary roadblocks,” said Helen Strom, a benefits unit supervisor at Urban Justice Center (UJC), an advocacy organization and think tank focused on bringing people out of poverty.

Hevesi accused Cuomo of profiting off of homeless shelters via Help USA, a nonprofit providing shelter that Cuomo founded many years ago and is now led by the governor’s sister.

“I don’t think he’s fighting homelessness,” Hevesi said. “I think he’s making money off of homelessness. Every policymaker in the state is for stopping the growth of the crisis except for him,” he said.

Via a spokesperson, Cuomo’s office pushed back against Hevesi’s accusation, calling it an “irresponsible lie” in a statement to Gotham Gazette, and saying the governor makes no money from Help USA.

Another issue some advocates and lawmakers raise around fighting poverty is health care, and while the state has very high rates of health care insurance coverage -- roughly 95% of New Yorkers are enrolled, in part due to robust government programming -- costs are still high for many. The Assembly majority had for several years passed the New York Health Act, which would create a universal, single-payer health care system in New York, but did not push the policy, which is opposed by Cuomo, this year, when it actually had a chance of passage in the newly-Democratic Senate. While most of the senators in the new majority had either co-sponsored the New York Health Act last year or expressed support for it during last year's campaigns, the legislation did not move in either house this year. Cuomo has said he believes single-payer health care is the best goal, but that it should be done nationally, that to do it in New York would be unrealistic given how much it upheaval it would require, including raising taxes on many New Yorkers and roughly doubling the state budget.

While advocacy groups agree in their criticism of Cuomo, “no one,” including Cuomo and the Assembly, has made anti-poverty measures “a real priority,” Deutsch said. “We can’t continue down this path any longer.”

Assembly Accomplishments
According to the Assembly majority, in March 2016, it successfully added municipalities to the governor’s Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI), though it does not appear this was a direct result of the anti-poverty work group given it had just been assembled and seems to have done little overall.

ESPRI invests money directly into 16 communities with high poverty rates. Among communities introduced by the Assembly to the initiative are Troy, Hempstead, Buffalo, Oneonta, Albany, Rochester, and Broome County. Upon being added, these communities became eligible to receive ESPRI funding, which began with a $25 million investment in 2015 and received $4.5 million in the 2020 budget.

ESPRI funding supports programs including financial literacy, job training, mental health and substance abuse counseling, and more.

While advocacy groups agreed that no substantial, explicit anti-poverty measures passed this legislative session, some programs that did move are likely to help fight poverty.

“Despite the state’s fiscal constraints, the Assembly ensured this year’s state budget invested in services for families struggling with the costs of housing, child care and after-school programs while restoring critical cuts to Medicaid and education,” Speaker Heastie said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The Assembly Majority remains focused on advancing our Families First Agenda, which includes identifying ways to lift New Yorkers out of poverty,” he said.

The state approved a program to end cash bail in most instances, allowing most people accused of a non-violent crime to remain out of jail while awaiting a court date. In pushing for major limits on cash bail, one central argument was that the use of it criminalized poverty, essentially making it that poor people who can’t afford a few hundred dollars in bail would sit in jail, and risk losing their jobs and other community ties.

In Schenectady County, those arrested spend an average of 40 days in jail before they are charged, with some let go without being charged at all, according to Citizen Action State Organizing and Training Director Jamaica Miles.

“The people most likely to be sitting in jail are those that cannot afford to pay the bail or bond to get out,” Miles said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “You’ve made their lives more difficult before convicting them of a crime,” she said, if they are ever convicted at all.

Additionally, the state’s newly approved rent regulations, highly favorable to rent-regulated tenants, are expected to be beneficial to many low-income families.

“The hope is they won’t be evicted as easily as they are being evicted now,” Deutsch said.

Looking ahead, the Assembly will be re-introducing a package of bills that “overhauls” the public assistance system, Hevesi said.

With the current public assistance system, many low-wage workers can earn enough to work themselves out of the benefit and lose their vouchers, but when they lose public assistance they can no longer afford to live where they’re living, Strom said.

To remedy the system, the state can raise the eligibility income levels for public assistance or create a different income level for housing vouchers, so those receiving public assistance can retain their vouchers while they transition to being off of benefits and on an employment income, Strom said.

“As it’s currently structured it’s a trap. Once people are on public assistance they are trapped in perpetuity. We have an opportunity to break that system up and give people the incentives they need to get off public assistance,” Hevesi said.

The Assembly had a hearing on the overhaul set for the end of the previous legislative session, but it didn’t come together in time, Hevesi said. The bills have veto proof support in the Assembly, including backing of Minority Leader Brian Kolb, and are over the 32 vote threshold to have a majority in the Senate, but still do not have the support of the governor, Hevesi said. 

The Assembly also pushed the governor for the creation of 20,000 units of supportive housing for the chronically homeless, Hevesi said.

“After a several-year battle [Cuomo] agreed, but then stalled again when we had to force him two years ago to release $1 billion to get the first 6,000 units,” Hevesi said.

Cuomo’s Efforts
Until his June comments on WAMC radio, just after the end of the budget and legislative session in Albany, Cuomo had said very little directly about poverty in 2019.

He did not explicitly discuss “poverty” in any of his three major speeches (a December “First 100 Days” address, his January 1 inaugural remarks, and his State of the State speech later in January) that set the stage for this year in Albany, the first under full and functional Democratic control of both the governor’s office and Legislature in several decades.

Cuomo did mention several programs, both already passed and on his 2019 agenda, that relate to poverty, though, including the minimum wage hike, which has seen the wage hit $15 per hour in New York City, with other increases around the state.

In his December 2018 speech outlining his agenda for the “first 100 days” of his third term, Cuomo called the lack of affordable housing “a crisis,” and promoted what he says is the state’s largest ever investment in affordable housing, which appears to have meant continuation of an ongoing $20 billion program that requires new budget investments each year.

He also called for renewed rent regulations that would improve certain tenants’ rights, which ultimately passed in the Legislature and were signed by the governor to much acclaim by activists, advocates, and lawmakers.

In his inaugural address, Cuomo again avoided the issue of poverty directly, but touted the state’s accomplishments and agenda related to fighting climate change, ending cash bail, legalizing marijuana (which failed to pass during the legislative session), and investment in affordable housing.

In his State of the State address, Cuomo again did not explicitly discuss poverty, but he put forth budgetary and legislative proposals to alleviate burdens for those in or near poverty. Cuomo’s executive budget plan proposed providing more state aid to poorer schools and school districts, while moving ahead with planned funding for affordable housing and to fight homelessness, among other measures that stand to help people living in or near poverty, like cash bail reform and green economics.

In his State of the State policy book, Cuomo did include a short section on “Combating Poverty,” with two planks: one, further supporting the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) and establishing ESPRI representation on Regional Economic Development Council workforce development committees; and two, “reduce hunger and food insecurity.” Cuomo would “establish a goal to reduce household food insecurity in New York State by 10 percent by 2024,” the policy book reads, and will do so by “directing the following actions: create a food and anti-hunger policy coordinator; simplify access to SNAP for older and disabled adults; enhanced resources and referrals in clinical settings; participate in SNAP online purchasing pilot; and expand food access in Central Brooklyn.”

Asked about the governor’s anti-poverty record in light of his comments and Heastie’s response, the governor’s office highlighted a number of programs.

“New York State is leading the fight against poverty through a holistic approach, including raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and a $20 billion plan to combat homelessness and create or preserve more than 100,000 affordable homes and 6,000 providing supportive services,” Cuomo Press Secretary Caitlin Girouard said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

According to the Governor’s office, Cuomo’s poverty reduction programs include 2013’s anti-hunger task force, 2015’s $25 million ESPRI to address regional pockets of poverty across the state, and the $15 per hour minimum wage program that he ushered through in 2016, which is phased in over several years and sets different wages in different regions of the state.

According to data from the “Unheard Third,” a regular opinion poll of low-income households conducted by the nonprofit Community Service Society, half of low-income hourly workers in New York City say that the recent increases in the state minimum wage is making them better off.

The percentage of New Yorkers in poverty decreased every year from 2013 to 2017, from 16 percent of New Yorkers living below the poverty line in 2013 to 14.1 percent in 2017, according to data from Talk Poverty, an organization that tracks poverty levels in every state. Since the minimum wage has passed, 247,775 fewer New Yorkers are living below the poverty line, according according to data from Talk Poverty. (The aforementioned New York State Community Action Association in its 2019 annual poverty report estimates 15% of New Yorkers living in poverty, using recent Census data from 2013-2017.)

Moving ahead, Cuomo has said he wants to continue to invest in education, but with aid directed disproportionately toward poorer K-12 schools. When the new state budget passed in April, education funding increased to $27.9 billion, with over 70% of the increased funding going to schools in poorer districts, according to the budget.

The state has increased funding for higher education, too, which has a distinct budget of $7.6 billion, by $1.6 billion, or 27 percent, since 2012 (Cuomo took office in 2011), according to data from the Governor’s office. Still, Cuomo has faced criticism related to funding for CUNY and SUNY public higher education institutions, and how his signature Excelsior Scholarship program is working.

In December of last year, Cuomo announced the Child Care Availability Task Force, a group of experts assembled to develop solutions that will improve access to affordable child care. The task force examined “access to affordable child care, the availability of child care for parents with non-traditional work hours, statutory and regulatory changes that could promote or enhance access to child care, business incentives to increase child care access, and the impact on tax credits and deductions relating to child care,” according to a press release announcing its creation.

"We want to ensure that working families are provided with the resources for safe, accessible and affordable child care. By promoting and investing in child care, we know it can improve women's participation in the workforce and narrow the gender wage gap,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who is a co-chair of the Child Care Availability Task Force, in the press release. Hochul has said she expects its initial recommendations to help inform the Cuomo administration’s 2020 agenda.

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

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As Cuomo and Heastie Trade Comments on Anti-Poverty Efforts, a Closer Look at What They've Done Wed, 24 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Advocates See Irony in Cuomo's Thinly-Veiled Shots at De Blasio Over City Problems https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8677-advocates-see-irony-in-cuomo-s-thinly-veiled-shots-at-de-blasio-over-city-problems https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8677-advocates-see-irony-in-cuomo-s-thinly-veiled-shots-at-de-blasio-over-city-problems cuomo bdb amazon

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


Governor Andrew Cuomo believes in action, rather than rhetoric, and rarely shies away from criticizing those who he believes fail to live up to their promises, including his fellow Democrats. He’s also appeared particularly irritated by the ascendent progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which has challenged him, unfairly he argues, and offers what he says are pie-in-the-sky talking points over the types of achievable results he’s delivered.

Cuomo brought the critiques together on Friday in an op-ed in the New York Daily News, where he inveighed about underfunded schools, the problem-plagued Rikers Island jail complex and the plan to close it, New York City’s homelessness crisis, and the mismanaged city public housing authority (NYCHA). That same day, Cuomo complained of a rising homeless problem on the city’s subways, calling on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), an entity he effectively controls, to confront it in its upcoming reorganization plan. 

But on each of those issues, Cuomo, now in his third term, offered no concrete solutions of his own, and advocates who have watched him hold the reins of power for eight-and-a-half years say his rhetoric distracts from his own policy failures while pinning the blame on others. In this case, the unnamed target was clearly New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is now running for president on what the mayor calls a long list of progressive accomplishments in the nation’s largest city.

In many instances, including the op-ed, Cuomo’s indulges in discussion of “what it means to be progressive” appear to be his attempts to differentiate himself from de Blasio, among others.

“The common denominator of these great failures — Rikers, poor schools, NYCHA — is obvious,” Cuomo wrote in the op-ed, “poor, powerless minorities and basic civil rights violations. Addressing them should be the cornerstone of a true progressive agenda, and yet they continue to languish.” 

He went on to criticize “Democratic failures” that fuel Republican success, before taking a shot at the 2020 Democratic presidential field. “Today, every 2020 Democratic presidential candidate is articulating the same basic ‘progressive’ goals: more economic opportunity, better public education, affordable health care, etc. To me, the far more important question is how we achieve these goals and who has the ability to get it done,” he wrote (Cuomo has repeatedly expressed support for former Vice President Joe Biden). 

The governor all but shouted from the rooftops that the common denominator on all those issues is de Blasio, a favorite target of his criticism despite the long history the two share. Cuomo’s acrimony towards what he sees as faux progressivism is never as obvious as when it’s directed at the second term mayor, and the two have spent more time arguing over issues they agree on rather than working on solutions.

Cuomo has been quick to fault de Blasio for the city’s homelessness crisis, the long-running problems at NYCHA, and what he inaccurately called a “stalled” plan to close Rikers. Inequity in school funding is another area where Cuomo, despite his own significant power to effect change, has taken a cudgel to the mayor. While de Blasio has struggled to varying degrees with each of the problems Cuomo mentioned, the mayor and others have also sought more state support than the city has received.

The mayor’s office clearly understood who the op-ed was targeting. “We agree - being progressive requires more than just talk,” said Jane Meyer, a spokesperson for de Blasio, in an email. “That’s why we back our words up with action. Our plan to close down Rikers is one year ahead of schedule, we have helped over 117,000 New Yorkers avoid or exit shelter, and we are testing 135,000 NYCHA apartments for lead to eradicate exposure.”

It is not lost on many close watchers and stakeholders that the issues Cuomo has railed about, and targeted de Blasio on, have of course been ripe for gubernatorial action, especially from a governor who has repeatedly sought to outshine, undermine, and overstep the mayor, whose shortcomings are not to be dismissed.

But overall, those working on solutions in the areas Cuomo mentioned say his op-ed says as much, if not more, about him than anyone he sought to call out. 

Rikers Island
In a conference call with reporters on Friday, Cuomo repeated his criticism of the Rikers closure plan, saying the state Legislature should have acted to close it long ago and that de Blasio’s plan “was unworkable from the day it was announced” -- a claim that does not appear supported by fact at this point in the process currently unfolding.

Though he was ready to offer help -- “Tell me what you need from the state’s point of view and we’ll be however helpful that we can,” Cuomo said -- he did not provide any concrete ideas. And he seemed to suggest that elected officials in the city would be best served if they moved ahead with the plan despite community opposition, which is what appears to be happening, contrary to Cuomo calling the plan unworkable and stalled. 

Brandon Holmes, the New York City campaign coordinator for JustLeadershipUSA, which has spearheaded the #CloseRikers campaign, chalked up Cuomo’s rhetoric to a “political game” with the mayor and one that undermines a successful ongoing effort to move towards a closure of the jail complex. Instead, he called out Cuomo’s yearslong efforts to either oppose or water down criminal justice reforms making their way through the state Legislature. 

Holmes noted, for instance, that Cuomo opposed the complete elimination of cash bail (it was severely limited for use in non-violent offenses under new legislation this year, which will be a big boost to the Rikers closure efforts given the expected reduction in remand), did not voice support for reforms to the parole system or eliminating solitary confinement.

“Cuomo didn’t support all of these things that would not only improve conditions for people who are currently incarcerated but also ensure that thousands more New Yorkers would never come into contact or return to prison in the first place, and he didn’t support any of that,” he said. “This is really just a political move. I don’t know what games he thinks he’s playing but he really should stay out of the picture and allow advocates and people who are formerly incarcerated to continue leading this movement to decarcerate New York which we’ve had to force him and drag him along the way to doing.”

While Cuomo did champion major bail and other criminal justice reforms that did move this year after Democrats won the state Senate, the governor’s critiques of de Blasio’s efforts to close the Rikers Island jails appear to boil down to calling the timeline too long, which is certainly debatable, though the governor has not followed up that criticism with anything concrete, and the unfounded jabs at the replacement plan, which is moving through the city’s land use review process.

Homelessness
Cuomo has repeatedly criticized the rise of homelessness in New York City, which continued to climb during de Blasio’s first several years as mayor but has plateaued after billions of dollars in additional spending by the city administration. De Blasio has himself repeatedly mentioned homelessness as his biggest failing as mayor, where he said he did not quickly enough grasp the magnitude of the problem and how many city resources needed to be dedicated toward it.

But Cuomo’s more recent tirade was directed more specifically at homelessness on the subway system. “[I]t's something we've all lived with as New Yorkers, but what's striking to me is how much worse it is and it's not just a question of looking at the numbers and the statistics, it's visibly worse,” said Cuomo, who has not ridden the subway in two-and-a-half years, on the press call. 

Cuomo called on the MTA, which is currently undergoing a top-to-bottom reorganization of its bureaucratic structure, to tackle the issue without relying on assistance from the city, while he again appeared to distance himself from actually providing state help.

“We need social service outreach workers. We need police in a supporting role. We need transportation accommodations. And the MTA has to have a concerted, efficient, professional effort where outreach workers make contact with homeless people on trains and in terminals doing assessment on-site as to the issues that are being presented by the homeless individual,” he said. “If the homeless individual is violating the laws or the regulations of the MTA, then help that person get the assistance they need. Be it a shelter, supportive housing, mental health facilities.” 

But the governor’s comments about additional policing, just a month after a separate announcement that the MTA would add 500 new police officers to patrol the subways for fare evasion (funded by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office), struck some experts as misguided.

Jacquelyn Simone, policy analyst at nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless, said in a statement Friday that the state should redouble its investments in permanent solutions such as affordable and supportive housing. “However Gov. Cuomo’s reference to increased policing of homeless people in the subways is misplaced,” she added. “We have always advised State and City leaders that the answer is most definitely not more policing because summonses and harassing vulnerable people to make them move simply pushes them deeper into the shadows without helping them obtain the services and housing each one of them needs. If Gov. Cuomo wants to fix the problem, let him step up with more housing and services specifically targeted for homeless people, stop shifting the cost of shelters off to localities, and stop the prison-to-shelter pipeline from the State’s correctional facilities.”

Cuomo’s has touted state investments in affordable and supportive housing, but experts have shown it has been slow to materialize, and the governor has refused to support a more significant state investment into housing subsidies that the city has provided to those leaving shelter.

JustLeadershipUSA’s Holmes offered rhetorical questions: “He comes out with this investment saying he’s gonna fund additional police officers into the MTA to solve those problems. What if he actually put that money towards providing permanent housing for people who are experiencing chronic homelessness? What if he put that money into repairing public housing buildings across the city?”  

NYCHA
The city’s public housing authority has suffered a series of setbacks and self-inflicted problems over the last many years, not the least of which involved the falsification of lead inspection records that led to a federal lawsuit and eventual oversight from a federal monitor. The authority also has an estimated $32 billion capital repair backlog, though the de Blasio administration was able to bring its operational expenses under control after years of deficits, in part by putting more city funds toward the authority.   

For over two years, however, while the agency faced investigation, Cuomo has refused to release about $450 million in state funding allocated for repair and maintenance, citing the agency’s mismanagement. “Progressives all espouse the need for affordable housing, but the incompetence of NYCHA has been tolerated for years with children being housed without heat and exposed to lead poisoning, without any coherent solution,” Cuomo said in his op-ed.

The governor also seized on NYCHA as an issue last year, as he was running for a third term, holding a number of NYCHA-related government events at various public housing developments, promising some conditional funding, and threatening a state monitor, pending the outcome of the federal examination.

The governor has not been a frequent NYCHA visitor since winning his primary last September, and he did not allocate any additional NYCHA funding in the new state budget passed April 1.

School Funding
“On public education, I think the op-ed is a bit of an indictment of his own policies,” said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, an education advocacy group, and a frequent Cuomo critic who supported the governor’s primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, in last year’s election.

AQE has long pushed for fully funding the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision, which would require billions more in state “foundation aid” funding for underfunded schools in poorer schools districts. Cuomo has repeatedly denied that funding, arguing that the state has no remaining obligation under the CFE decision, and this year pushed his own alternative “education equity” formula that would require districts to direct more funding toward their poorer schools.

In his op-ed, Cuomo critiqued the state Legislature for failing to increase funding for poorer school districts without also increasing funds for richer ones, but his formula accomplishes the same outcome. The governor pushed through additional requirements for New York City to report on how state education aid is being delivered to specific schools. 

“He has utterly failed to deliver for high-need schools in this state,” Easton added. “This year the Legislature proposed a plan that would increase funding over the next four years for high-need school districts by $3 billion and he aggressively blocked it.”

Cuomo has at once touted that the state continues to increase overall education funding to record levels each year, and also said that the state cannot keep throwing more money at education, citing the highest per-pupil spending in the country, by far.

He’s backed an expansion of charter schools, particularly in New York City, an effort that stalled this year under full Democratic control of the Legislature despite the state cap on charters for the city having been hit. De Blasio and Easton are staunch opponents of charter schools, which supporters point out often deliver better education than traditional public schools in low-income communities of color, while critics say they often don’t educate representative student bodies, are test-prep factories, and starve district schools of resources.

Easton derided the governor’s so-called pragmatism as one driven more by fiscal conservatism, and noted that the disparity in per-pupil funding between richer and poorer school districts has only gone up under Cuomo’s tenure (though the Legislature certainly has a hand in that as well). 

“I think he’s just lashing out. He’s lashed out at de Blasio, he’s lashed out at AOC, he’s lashed out at Cabán,” he said. “He’s lashing out at anyone who’s actually a progressive. He wants the definition of progressive to probably be center-right like he is. That’s just not the reality. The truth is, what the op-ed also shows is that progressives are defining the agenda that Democrats have to respond to. He’s got that intuition, he’s always had the intuition that he needs to brand himself as a progressive but he’s a lot better at branding than he is at delivering on some of the most important progressive priorities.”

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Advocates See Irony in Cuomo's Thinly-Veiled Shots at De Blasio Over City Problems Tue, 16 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Social Workers for Homeless Kids is Not the Place to Skimp https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8520-counselors-for-homeless-kids-is-not-the-place-to-skimp https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8520-counselors-for-homeless-kids-is-not-the-place-to-skimp mayor bdb edu

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


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

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

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

For many students and schools, this is reality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where We Work, ThriveNYC is Helping Families and Getting Homeless Children to School Mon, 06 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Advocates Give De Blasio and Cuomo Failing Grades on Addressing Homelessness https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8492-advocates-give-de-blasio-and-cuomo-failing-grades-on-addressing-homelessness https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8492-advocates-give-de-blasio-and-cuomo-failing-grades-on-addressing-homelessness citycouncil rafael

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Ashad Hajela, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Brianna Zimmerman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Giselle Routhier is Policy Director for Coalition for the Homeless.

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

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Setting the Record Straight: Mayor de Blasio’s Housing Plan Can and Should Do More for the Homeless Mon, 10 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000