Advantage Recidivism – The Real Numbers

This month, a new version of the City’s flawed rental subsidy for homeless families has rolled out, making it more difficult for families to gain stability and independence in one of the worst economic climates in decades. The new program keeps the one-size-fits-all time limit of two years while establishing stricter work standards (a required 35 hour work week) and exorbitant rent burdens (30 percent of income in the first year and 40 percent of income in the second year) for these low-income families.

The most glaring problem with the program, both before and after the changes, is the time limit providing a maximum of only two years of assistance. Department of Homeless Services data show that the average family receiving Advantage is making just $9.50 an hour and working 30 hours a week. DHS Commissioner Diamond continually blames the families for their poverty and “culture of dependence,” when the reality is that jobs are scarce and living wages for low-skilled workers do not exist.

Most disturbingly, DHS continually claims that Advantage is a success, while refusing to release data on the number of families who have returned to shelter after receiving Advantage. Through a Freedom of Information request, we obtained the actual recidivism data.

From a document entitled, “Reapplications of families with prior Advantage exits,” the Department of Homeless Services data show that between April 2007 and April 2010, 1,137 different families have re-applied for shelter after receiving Advantage. By April 2010, just 3,746 families had started receiving the subsidy two or more years ago, meaning that the recidivism rate could be as high as one in three. Nearly half of these re-applications were in the last six months, showing a continued increase in the number of families returning to shelter as more families time off. Indeed, in March 2010, 172 applications were filed at the family intake center, PATH– nearly six a day!

In addition to this disturbing new data, yesterday the NYC Comptroller released an audit on the Advantage program, citing poor oversight in protecting families from bad conditions and from paying extra in illegal “side deals.”

The Coalition for the Homeless, along with NYC Comptroller John Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, City Councilmember Annabel Palma, and the Legal Aid Society urge the City and State to reverse the new changes and re-work the program to make it more effective.