Gotham Gazette Sun, 16 May 2021 02:24:53 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Promoting Tenant Advisory Groups in Supportive Housing meeting

(photo via nycha/flickr)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Promoting Tenant Advisory Groups in Supportive Housing Sun, 15 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Enhancing City Efforts to Move Individuals from Homelessness to Homes tenant apartment de Blasio affordable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Enhancing City Efforts to Move Individuals from Homelessness to Homes Wed, 15 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
The Time Is Now to Increase City Human Services Contracts Urban Pathways rally outside city hall

Urban Pathways members rally outside City Hall (photo via Urban Pathways)

In May 2015, my fellow Urban Pathways Board Member Gary Belsky rightfully recognized Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fiscal year 2016 budget investment in the human services nonprofit workforce. The investment -- a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment and an $11.50-per-hour wage floor, coupled with a subsequent City-funded $15 minimum wage -- rewarded a long neglected workforce instrumental to moving vulnerable New Yorkers and the City forward.

However, as we approach the fiscal year 2018 budget, the mayor has more to do. It is now time for him to follow these laudable staff investments with a 12 percent increase in the city’s human services contracts themselves. Contract increases will act in concert with the enacted workforce investments. They will ensure we have human services organizations to employ the workers now deservedly earning a higher wage. (In 2013, nearly one in five city human services providers operated in the red, an indicator of potential closure.)

Human services nonprofits serve the most vulnerable in our city, about 2.5 million New Yorkers each year. They provide early childhood education and after-school programs, run food pantries, provide mental health services, house persons experiencing homelessness, and care for the elderly, among many other community services. Urban Pathways, for example, assists homeless adults in the New York City metropolitan area through a continuum of services and supportive housing.

Increases will enable us to provide ample training and affordable benefits to our staff. Years of flat funding from the city amid the rising costs of health care have complicated our ability to remain fiscally sound. This year, Urban Pathways endured another double-digit increase in our health care costs for our over 300 employees. Flat funding forces us to split these double-digit increases with our employees, resulting in increased co-pays and obligating us to modify our health insurance carrier.

City contract increases will also reverse the tide of consistently underfunded contracts. In the past decade, the city has granted only one increase to its human services contracts. This has yielded barebones human services programs that should do more than merely subsist. Those whom we serve deserve that.
A consistent challenge Urban Pathways faces in operating our facilities for alternatives to shelter for homeless adults -- the Olivieri Drop-In Center, Hegeman Safe Haven and Travelers Safe Haven -- is inadequate city investment in the form of an underfunded Other Than Personal Services (OTPS) line. OTPS constitutes a significant line in the budgets of our Drop-In Center and Safe Havens. We draw on it to feed the 500 clients we annually serve at these programs so they have access to healthy food amid their paltry incomes. We use it to ensure our staff receives benefits and development to counter high turnover in our sector. We also rely on it to upgrade technology and make capital repairs so infrastructure remains sound. Our Safe Havens, like any other buildings, break and require maintenance.

As a board member, I with countless others, invest time, money and personal equity in human services organizations across the city. We proudly do so because we recognize the value of these organizations. They are vital to the individuals receiving the services, our communities and the city overall. We also take our fiduciary duty seriously, and recognize that the challenges are growing and threaten the sustainability of these organizations.

The time is now for the mayor to complete his work and enact a budget that includes a 12 percent increase in the city’s human services contracts. Let’s ensure human services organizations and their workforce can develop and run programs to their fullest capabilities.

Kelley Gott has been an Executive Board Member of Urban Pathways since 2015.

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The Time Is Now to Increase City Human Services Contracts Fri, 10 Feb 2017 01:29:52 +0000
For More Progress in Homeless Services, Continue to Consult the Experts de blasio homelessness applause bronx

Homelessness policy announcement (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

On April 11, the de Blasio administration announced the results of its 90-day review of homeless services. The review’s inclusive and collaborative process is impressive. The city consulted numerous stakeholders, including two groups too often ignored: clients, specifically homeless individuals in shelters and on the streets; and nonprofit homeless service providers. With respect to clients, the city surveyed 630 individuals in homeless shelters and conducted focus groups with over 80 Coalition for the Homeless, VOCAL-NY, Picture the Homeless, and Urban Justice Center Safety Net Project clients. Sixty nonprofit providers were also engaged in the review process.

As the city implements the 46 reforms in its review, it should continue including and collaborating with clients and providers. It would be a grave error to continue the mistakes of the past where clients’ concerns about shelters and providers’ requests for capital repairs were ignored.

The first opportunity for inclusion and collaboration is the Interagency Homelessness Accountability Council (or the Interagency Coordinating Council in City Administrative Code § 21-307). Both nonprofit service providers and currently/formerly homeless individuals should serve on the Council.

The vehicle is already in place: the Homeless Services Advisory Board set forth in City Administrative Code § 21-306 - as City Council General Welfare Chair Stephen Levin noted during the April 21 hearing, “Oversight: An Examination of the Department of Homeless Services 90-day Review.”

To better understand why the city should listen to providers, look to the Mayor’s Supportive Housing Taskforce, where supportive housing providers alerted the city to the unfeasible scattered-site supportive housing rates before it rolls out the first 500 units of a new program this year.

In addition, the city would do well to include and consult more formerly homeless individuals as it provides homeless services. This enables the city to utilize those with direct experience and also addresses the review’s Reform #25: Promote career pathways for shelter residents.

One area to include consumers is the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) Office of the Client Ombudsman. The city can also employ formerly homeless individuals as homeless outreach workers and continue to utilize peer specialists as DHS case managers. The mental health field recognizes the invaluable role of peers and so should homeless services.

Another opportunity for client inclusion and collaboration is around the review’s Reform #12: Increase safety in shelters through a NYPD management review and retraining program. As the NYPD re-trains DHS security staff, it should utilize training akin to the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training that NYPD officers receive to de-escalate situations involving persons in emotional distress. Whereas that training draws on the experiences of individuals with mental health challenges, this can also draw on the experiences of homeless individuals.

As the city continues to work to improve its homeless services, there are no better people to seek guidance from than those now or recently involved in related programming on a daily basis.

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

For More Progress in Homeless Services, Continue to Consult the Experts Mon, 02 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Next Steps the State Must Make to Create and Maintain Affordable Housing groundbreaking cuomo others

photo: a groundbreaking, via the Governor's Office

As the Legislature moves ahead with its 2016 session in Albany, a top priority must be creating and maintaining affordable housing across the state. We cannot be content with fellow New Yorkers sleeping in three-quarter houses, with too many to a room, because it’s the only alternative. It is only so long until the next severely rent burdened tenant - spending more than 50 percent of their earnings on rent - ends up homeless because they cannot afford their apartment.

Governor Cuomo’s State of the State agenda – including 20,000 units of supportive housing over 15 years and 100,000 units of permanent affordable housing - is a welcome first step. Now, there are steps the Legislature should take to spur the development and protection of affordable housing. As President Obama’s call to end chronic homelessness among veterans displays, when government acts and we mobilize on that action, we can address long-term, entrenched issues and ensure individuals have a safe and affordable place to live.

A high priority for Albany should be a new 421-a property tax credit for real estate developers who build affordable housing.

After developers and labor were unable to come to an agreement on construction wages by January 15, the 421-a tax credit expired. Still, Albany can seize the opportunity and craft a new program that maximizes the cost-effective development of truly affordable housing. For example, a new 421-a credit should not include a tax break for condo development. Approximately two-thirds of New York City’s households are renters. Moreover, the median household income of renters in New York City - about $41,000 annually according to the Furman Center’s 2014 State of New York City’s Housing & Neighborhoods - is unlikely enough to afford a co-op or condo.

The Legislature must also adequately fund the 20,000 units of supportive housing announced by Cuomo. In particular, Albany must ensure state contracts with supportive housing providers promote the long-term viability of the units. A consistent challenge that we at Urban Pathways face in operating scattered-site supportive housing - apartments in various private buildings throughout communities - is that the service contracts lack rent escalations. As scattered-site units are in market-rate apartments, they are subject to rent increases, making rent escalation provisions critical to their preservation.

Lastly, after March of this year, the state will receive National Housing Trust Fund dollars. New York will be obligated to spend these funds - potentially $20 million - predominantly on rental housing for extremely low-income (ELI) households. ELI households are those with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income (ranging from about $18,150 for a one-person household to $29,500 for a four-person household in New York City). This is another opportunity for the state to invest in adequate exit options for homeless individuals throughout the state.

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

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Next Steps the State Must Make to Create and Maintain Affordable Housing Wed, 10 Feb 2016 18:05:44 +0000