Thursday, July 19, 2012 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

New Lawsuit Challenges Flaws in Homelessness Prevention Program

A new class action lawsuit challenges the mismanagement and underfunding of a joint City-State rental assistance program designed to prevent homelessness – a program sorely needed now as thousands of former Advantage families face eviction.

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports on the lawsuit, which was brought by the Legal Aid Society on behalf of families receiving public assistance who are facing eviction and homelessness because their welfare allowance is too small to pay the rent:

Thousands of low-income families in New York City are at risk of becoming homeless because they have been blocked from applying to a rental-assistance program designed to ward off eviction, a lawsuit contends.

The Family Eviction Prevention Supplement [FEPS] program, a joint initiative by city and state governments, provides back rent and continuing aid to families on public assistance who face eviction. But high demand combined with state funding cuts mean eligible New Yorkers are turned away each week, advocates say.

The nonprofits hired to oversee applications are underfunded and overwhelmed, the lawsuit argues, effectively blocking recipients who qualify for help.

Judith Goldiner, an attorney at Legal Aid Society, which is working with the plaintiffs, said the case is about problems with outsourcing vital social services.

"When those private not-for-profits have to close their doors, you cannot apply for what is a public benefit," she said.

The high demand for anti-eviction aid comes, in part, as a result of the city's move in February to stop making rental-assistance payments to formerly homeless New Yorkers under the Advantage program. At the time, there were more than 18,700 recipients—many of whom might now seek help through the anti-eviction program.

For years Coalition for the Homeless and other advocates and service providers have called for reforms to improve the FEPS program and make it available to more at-risk New Yorkers. FEPS is a program that, despite its flaws, provides a vital safety net to help keep poor renters in their homes. And with thousands of formerly-homeless Advantage households facing homelessness in the coming months, those reforms are more needed than ever.

In our recent report “Homeless Again” – which analyzed the revolving door back to homelessness for thousands of NYC families – we recommended the following:

The City and State should work together to make it easier for families to access FEPS.

• FEPS rules should be altered to allow families to access the subsidy without being sued. Currently, families can only access FEPS if they are being sued in housing court. This is expensive and labor intensive for the courts, landlords, and tenants. Working tenants may be forced to miss work and risk jeopardizing their employment.

• Additionally, FEPS should be extended to families without children and single adults, who are also at risk of eviction after receiving the Advantage program.

• Finally, more providers should be added to process FEPS applications. Currently, the demand for FEPS applications is exceeding the number of people who are able to submit them.

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