– Shelters Fill as Rent Aid Disappears (Wall Street Journal, Dec 27, 2013):
New York City residents who received rent subsidies are flocking to homeless shelters.
New York City homeless shelters—swelling with record-high populations not seen since the Great Depression—are increasingly being sought out by people who participated in a now-defunct rent-subsidy program designed to reduce homelessness, according to a report to be released Saturday.
The author of the report, the Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit advocacy group, held up the report as evidence that homeless families need longer-term government help with rent to stay out of the shelter system. Since the rental-payment program, known as Advantage, was canceled by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration after state budget cuts in June 2011, the city’s homeless shelter system population has grown to its highest-ever levels: 52,000 people, including 22,000 children.
As of August, the coalition report found, 49.4% of family placements in the Advantage program had returned to the shelter system, climbing from 24.5% nearly three years ago. The numbers rose rapidly as subsidies ran out in 2012, with more than 300 families a month seeking shelter from the city during that summer after losing their rent subsidies. In 2013, more than 200 such families were entering shelters each month, the report said.
The coalition estimated that the cost of housing these families in the shelter system was $287 million more than paying their rent through Advantage.The coalition said its report, titled “The Revolving Door Keeps Spinning,” was based on city government data obtained from a Freedom of Information Law request.
Lisa Black, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department for Homeless Services, said the coalition “grossly manipulated” the city’s data to produce “inflated recidivism rates.” She said the coalition was counting some families twice and contended that only about 26.1% of families who received Advantage subsidies returned to shelter, a statistic the coalition said was distorted.
The coalition’s latest report comes as Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio prepares to take over City Hall with a vow to alter the city’s approach to homelessness, including pursuing a new rent-subsidy program.
Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless and author of the report, said he hopes the de Blasio administration will learn from the “policy failures” of the Bloomberg administration. Mr. Markee and other advocates have turned their attention in recent months toward creating a new rental subsidy to deal with the city’s burgeoning numbers of homeless.
“ The homeless population has swelled in the past three years. ”
“We now have overwhelming evidence that short-term housing subsidies like the flawed Advantage program force thousands of children and families back into homelessness and cost taxpayers millions in avoidable shelter costs,” Mr. Markee said. “The new mayor can work with the state to craft a far better housing subsidy to reduce New York City’s record-high homeless population.”
The Bloomberg administration launched the Advantage program in 2007, using a mix of federal, state and city money to help the homeless make the transition from shelters to permanent housing. The program provided rent subsidies for two years, and then participants were on their own.
Over the city’s objections, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers cut the state share of the program in 2011, helping to close a $10 billion budget deficit. When the state funding was cut, the city lost the federal funding, and the Bloomberg administration decided to cancel the program. The mayor said the city couldn’t afford the subsidies without state and federal aid.
Among those who lost their rental payments around then was Cicely Tyler, 40 years old, who is currently living in a Brooklyn shelter with her 11-month-old son and the baby’s father. She was living on Staten Island with the help of an Advantage subsidy, but when the subsidy expired in spring 2011, she said, she returned to the shelter system and has been there ever since.
Ms. Tyler said she hopes Mr. de Blasio helps people like her.
“I hope that he at least brings back some program so people don’t have to be stuck in shelter because I know people have been here two, three years,” she said.
Steve Banks, attorney in chief at the Legal Aid Society, a nonprofit group that has been at the center of homelessness litigation for decades, said Mr. Bloomberg has left Mr. de Blasio with a crisis, driven in significant part by Advantage families returning to the system.
“The theory behind the program was that, miraculously, in a very difficult economy, low-wage workers would earn enough to cover unsubsidized rents and that families with children, and adults with disabilities on fixed incomes, would miraculously be able to cover more than 30% of the rent,” Mr. Banks said. “Neither of those things came to pass, and it was predictable.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio declined Friday to comment.