Wednesday, August 4, 2010 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

DHS “Facts” v. Actual Facts

The New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) recently published a "myths v. facts" page about Advantage. Curiously enough, their "facts" ignore their own data, indicators, and measurements.

1. DHS "fact:" The two year Advantage subsidy gives families a "substantial period to stabilize in the community and increase their income."

Actual fact: The two year Advantage subsidy does not give families enough time to stabilize in the community for several reasons. (1) Families coming out of homelessness typically work in low-wage jobs. DHS's own data states that even after receiving a full year of Advantage assistance, families are making an average of $9 an hour and working 32 hours per week-- about $1152 a month. This amount would barely support a single adult in New York City's rental market, nevermind a family. (2) The rental market in New York City is such that in order to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment, a family must be earning a wage of $26.13 an hour. Looking back at DHS data on family earnings, a typical Advantage family would have to nearly triple their income in just one year in order to be fully stabilized and economically self-sufficient when their subsidy expires-- an impossible feat, even in a robust economic climate.

2. DHS "fact:" The City continually pushes the message that low-income and formerly homeless families have access to a wide variety of other public benefits, which makes up for their inability to afford rent. "These resources include food stamps, public health insurance, child support, the earned income tax credit and child care. Many of these supports can continue even once Advantage ends."

Actual fact: These additional benefits are indeed helpful and necessary for many families, but the fact is most of them do not put extra cash into families pockets to help them cover their rental payments. Food stamps, health insurance and child care are services that fulfill just that specific need for a family. They still do not address the large gap between families' incomes and rents. The earned income tax credit is certainly a help, but would realistically not provide the amount necessary for families to avoid missing rent payments and potentially being evicted once their Advantage subsidy expires.

3. DHS "fact:" "More than 90 percent of those who began receiving Advantage more than two years ago (and whose subsidy has therefore expired) have not returned to shelter."

Actual fact: DHS refuses to release the actual number of families that have returned to shelter after receiving Advantage. However, in response to a Freedom of Information Request, we were provided with a DHS document that showed between September 2007 and April 2010, 1,828 applications for shelter were received at PATH for families who were previously on Advantage. Because of the many problems that families come across in being found eligible for shelter, a certain number of these applications would likely be repeat applications. This number is usually around 25 percent of the applications received (according to DHS Critical Activities Reports). So still, this means that at least 1,371 families have returned to homelessness after receiving the Advantage subsidy. The number of families who began receiving Advantage more than two years prior to April 2010 (and whose subsidy had therefore expired by that time) was 3,746. This means that up to 36% of families formerly on Advantage have returned to shelter-- nowhere near the claimed 90% success rate. Even regardless of percentages, the fact that over 1,000 families have become homeless for a second time is astounding.

4. DHS "fact:" Federal housing programs do not reduce family homelessness.

Actual fact: A research report commissioned by DHS and conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice would suggest otherwise. The study concluded that, "Across all cohorts and follow-up periods, those families exiting to subsidized housing exhibited the lowest rates of reentry. Subsidized housing appears to be associated with better protection against shelter return than exiting to one's own housing, other destinations, or unknown arrangements.... NYCHA public housing placement seemed to offer the best protection against shelter reentry, at least in the short term. Not counting Mitchell-Lama placements, families placed with NYCHA public housing demonstrated the lowest two- and five-year return rates in this study. However, families placed in Section 8 Non-EARP housing in 1994 showed the lowest ten-year rate of reentry."

5. DHS "fact:" It is untrue that "four out of five homeless families will not qualify for rental assistance under the new Advantage rules."

Actual fact: According to a DHS report from March 2009, "The proportion of families meeting the Advantage criteria has remained fairly steady. As of February 29, 2009, 19% of all families with children in shelter met the Work Advantage eligibility criteria." This data was for the old Advantage program. The new Advantage program, beginning this month, puts in place much stricter requirements for qualification, including a 35 hour/week work requirement, making it unlikely that the percentage of qualified families would increase from its steady 19 percent.

For more information and references, read our full report here.

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