FACT VS. FICTION: Fact-checking Bloomberg on Homelessness

Refusing to take responsibility for the record-high 50,000+ homeless people in NYC shelters, Mayor Bloomberg and his officials have instead launched a series of baseless attacks on homeless advocates. Here we fact-check the attacks.

Coalition for the Homeless’ State of the Homeless 2013 report documents that — for the first time ever — more than 50,000 homeless New Yorkers, including 21,000 children, sleep each night in the NYC shelter system. Since Mayor Bloomberg took office, the NYC homeless shelter population has grown by 61 percent and the number of homeless families has increased by a shocking 73 percent.

In responding to press inquiries about the report, Mayor Bloomberg and top administration officials steadfastly refused to take responsibility for worsening homelessness. Instead they pointed the finger of blame at the State government and attacked the Coalition in a series of distortions and outright falsehoods. Here are the facts:

FICTIONLast night on NY1 News’ “Road to City Hall,” homeless services commissioner Seth Diamond was asked repeatedly by host Errol Louis about the Bloomberg administration’s refusal to use Federal housing programs like public housing to help homeless families. Diamond responded this way:

“The Independent Budget Office did a report, commissioned by the Coalition on [sic] the Homeless, which showed that the proposals they make will not significantly reduce the number of people in the shelter system. They asked for the report. They didn’t get the results they want. They don’t talk about it.”

FACTDiamond’s statement is completely false. In fact, the Independent Budget Office (IBO)’s report, from June 2012, analyzed a proposal advanced by the New York City Council and Council Speaker Christine Quinn to resume the policy, used successfully by previous NYC mayors, of priority referrals of homeless families to Federal housing programs like public housing — a proposal strongly supported by the Coalition.

And the IBO report clearly found that the City Council plan would both reduce the number of homeless families in shelters AND save millions of dollars spent on the shelter system. Here are the IBO report’s key findings:

IBO found that implementing the policy outlined in the City Council proposal would result in a net reduction in the family shelter census, despite a decline in the number of families that would leave shelter on their own without a subsidy and a slight increase in the number of families entering the shelter system.

IBO found that savings would be proportional to the number of placements made. Family shelter costs would be reduced by a total of $14.7 million with 2,500 placements and $29.4 million with 5,000 placements. With family shelter funding shared between the federal, state, and city governments, slightly more than a third of the reduction, about $5.5 million and $11.0 million, respectively, would reflect savings for the city. [Emphasis added.]

Contrary to Diamond’s false claims, the IBO report strongly supports the Coalition’s position. And we actually talk about the IBO report quite a lot – here, when the report was first released; in our State of the Homeless 2012 reporthereherehere; again in this year’s State of the Homeless 2013 report, etc. etc. And we would stop talking about it if only the Bloomberg administration would acknowledge the IBO report’s findings and adopt this smart, cost-effective proposal.

FICTION: Mayor Bloomberg and administration officials, acknowledging that homeless families are staying longer in shelters, say that the reason is lack of housing subsidies because no housing subsidies are available.

FACT: The truth is that the lack of housing assistance for homeless families is a crisis entirely of the Bloomberg administration’s own making. Here are the facts:

• Back in 2005, Mayor Bloomberg cut off homeless families from priority access to Federal housing programs like public housing, which were used successfully by previous NYC mayors.

• Both before and after the end of the Advantage program two years ago, Mayor Bloomberg could have resumed the use of Federal housing programs to address rising family homelessness. The Bloomberg administration refused to do so.

• Last year the New York City Council and Speaker Quinn urged the mayor to resume use of Federal housing resources. The Bloomberg administration refused to do so.

• The City Council and Speaker Quinn even pledged funding to create a new pilot rent subsidy program to help 1,000 homeless families move from shelters to permanent housing.The Bloomberg administration refused the offer.

• As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, since the end of the Advantage program two years ago the Bloomberg administration has not requested any State funding for rent subsidies for homeless families. As the Journal noted:

The Bloomberg administration hasn’t specifically requested that the funding for Advantage be restored in talks with state officials, people familiar with the matter said, and the mayor didn’t mention the topic in his 3,703-word testimony on Mr. Cuomo’s proposed budget in January.

• On NY1 News last night and in numerous other public statements, Seth Diamond repeatedly refers to public housing resources as “not available.” However, NY1 News’s Errol Louis noted last night and as the Mayor’s Management Report clearly shows, last year the City moved more than 6,000 families into public housing apartments – none of them were referrals from the homeless shelter system.

Thus, Mayor Bloomberg and his officials grudgingly blame longer family shelter stays and rising homelessness on a lack of housing subsidies. But they refuse to take any steps to provide legitimate housing-based solutions to this unprecedented crisis.

FICTION: Perhaps most outrageous of all, Mayor Bloomberg attacked homeless advocates — the Coalition for the Homeless in particular — as responsible for the end of the Advantage program. Bloomberg himself said that the Coalition “wanted to kill” Advantage, and Seth Diamond has repeatedly claimed – as recently as last night on NY1 News – that the Coalition “lobbied” the State to end the Advantage program.

FACTClaims by Bloomberg and his top officials are patently false. They serve up a completely revisionist history of the dispute between the State and the City over the Advantage program and the Bloomberg administration’s decision to end the program.

We’ve answered this outrageous attack before, in a post entitled “Anatomy of a Smear Campaign.” Here are the key facts:

• Governor Cuomo’s administration eliminated State funding for the flawed Advantage program in his 2011-2012 executive budget, released in January 2011. Neither Coalition for the Homeless nor any other homeless group lobbied the State to make that cutback. Indeed, on the day the Governor’s budget was released, we were completely caught off-guard at news of the cutback.

• The dispute between the State and Bloomberg administration was both a dispute about budget and about the City’s homeless housing policies.  In fact, in numerous discussions before and after the State announced the January 2011 budget cutback, Cuomo administration officials told Bloomberg administration officials repeatedly that the City would have to use its own housing resources – including Federal housing resources – to effectively stem soaring homelessness. The Bloomberg administration refused to do so.

• Neither the Coalition nor other advocates ever called for eliminating the Advantage program in the absence of an alternative to replace it. As we had since 2005, we continued to urge State and City officials to reinstate Federal housing resources. Both research and experience has shown that this approach reduces homelessness at less cost to taxpayers.

• Even when the State finally withdrew funding for the program, the Bloomberg administration could have continued the Advantage program. Instead, in March 2011 the City announced it was terminating the Advantage program — not only for new applicants but also for families recently housed with Advantage subsidies — before the State budget was finalized.

• Finally, when the Bloomberg administration announced its plans to end Advantage subsidies for thousands of formerly-homeless families who had already left shelter and been promised up to two years of assistance, it was the Coalition and the Legal Aid Society that went to court and fought for the City to keep its promise to those families.  That legal challenge won several months of temporary relief, in the form of extended Advantage subsidies, for thousands of vulnerable children and families.

All in all, Mayor Bloomberg has been unwilling to accept responsibility for the failure of his homeless policies – failure that has resulted in more than 50,000 homeless New Yorkers with 21,000 kids bedding down tonight in municipal shelters. It’s time to stop the blame game, Mr. Mayor, and instead take some responsibility and invest in proven solutions.