Mayor Bloomberg’s Failed Homeless Policies Are Affecting Landlords Too

In her New York Times column this week, Ginia Bellafante highlights the secondary effects of Mayor Bloomberg’s failed homeless policies– the impact on small landlords.

“So rarely a figure of sympathy in the lore of New York, the landlord has emerged as another victim of the Bloomberg administration’s seemingly ad hoc approach to homeless policy.”

Right now, there are a record 41,000 homeless men, women, and children sleeping in New York City shelters each night. Additionally, the Bloomberg administration recently announced it would stop paying rent for the approximately 8,000 families still receiving subsidies under the Advantage program.

We’ve reported frequently enough on the impact the failed Advantage program continues to have on formerly homeless families. Thousands of households have now become homeless for a second time after their subsidies ended under the time-limited Advantage program. But here we are reminded that Mayor Bloomberg is not only ignoring the needs of the city’s poorest, but he is also putting small landlords at risk of financial ruin. The vast majority of the 8,000 households currently on Advantage will not be able to afford their rent going forward without the presence of a subsidy.

And yet, this is not even the worst part. The Bloomberg administration is putting homeless families and landlords at risk while there is a more effective and cheaper alternative ready and available for use tomorrow! Currently homeless families are listed at the top of the priority list for public housing and Section 8, but the City refuses to utilize this priority. Instead, they continue with their wildly misguided policy decision to block homeless families from receiving the one program that will truly address this homelessness crisis.

In light of Ms. Bellafante’s column, let Mayor Bloomberg be reminded that what affects homeless families affects all of us.

Unhinged from Reality: Mayor Bloomberg Defends His Shelter Denial Plan

The premise behind Mayor Bloomberg’s shelter denial plan — which was fortunately blocked by a New York State Supreme Court ruling this week — has always been more than a little far-fetched and absurd.

Since November, Bloomberg administration officials have struggled to sell the fantastical notion that New Yorkers with genuine, viable housing options are rushing en masse to the Bellevue Men’s Shelter, the Bedford-Atlantic Armory, the 1,000-bed Wards Island shelter complex, and similar warehouse-style facilities in order to sleep on metal cots and thin mattresses constructed by prison labor, in dormitories with upwards of 100 homeless adults in rows of identical cots three feet apart. And that these New Yorkers will spend months in the municipal shelter system, living in the same grim institutional conditions and eating the same grim institutional food, all while they actually have other housing available to them.

Indeed, City officials claim that between 10 percent and 60 percent of all homeless single adults — roughly 2,000 to 12,000 people each year — actually fall into this ridiculous, absurd category of New Yorkers bedding down in municipal shelters instead of in their own homes. That’s why, the officials say, the City needs new bureaucratic rules to ferret out what the New York Post editorial board — echoing (and amplifying) in time-tested fashion the administration’s rhetoric on its punitive homeless policies — characteristically called “fraudsters.”

One might have hoped that, in the wake of Tuesday’s court ruling (PDF) — as well as the near-universal opposition to the proposed shelter denial rules from the New York City Council, other local elected officials, homeless service providers, community groups, and advocates — that the administration would re-think its misguided “adult shelter eligibility rules.”

Sadly, however, in response to the court ruling Mayor Bloomberg actually doubled down on the fantastical and absurd rhetoric underlying his shelter denial plan. As Capital New York reported:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg reacted strongly to the ruling, defending the city’s proposed policy change.

“The law requires that we provide shelter,” said the mayor. “But you cannot say, ‘I’m tired of paying my rent, therefore the taxpayers of New York City should just pay my rent,’ OK? That’s not reasonable.”  [Emphasis added.]

According to NY1 News, the Mayor then went on to attack the courts — and even to cloak his attack on the judiciary in the shroud of patriotism…!

“…I think we should do it now and we’re going to do everything we can to have the ability to do it or let the judges explain to the public why they think that you should just have a right to walk in and say, ‘Whether or not I need services, give it to me.’ I don’t think that’s what this country’s all about,” said Bloomberg.  [Emphasis added.]

Of course, the proposed “adult shelter eligibility rules” (PDF) have never really been about determining if shelter applicants have genuine, available, suitable housing alternatives. The rules are really about creating bureaucratic tools to deny emergency shelter to people who are genuinely homeless. In fact, NYC Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond essentially admitted as much at a November emergency City Council hearing, where he addressed the hypothetical, though commonplace, scenario of a homeless man who had once lived with his brother. Under the new rules, Diamond said, the City would deny shelter to the homeless man EVEN IF the brother refused to accept him in his home – and EVEN IF the brother changed the locks on his door!

And this is only one blunt example of how the “eligibility rules” are designed to close the shelter door to thousands of homeless New Yorkers. As we explained in testimony at the same November hearing, under the rules homeless people would be denied shelter:

• Even when a family member with whom the homeless person lived in the past states verbally and in writing that the person can no longer live in their home;

• Even when an outreach worker or police officer escorts the homeless person to an intake shelter but the Department claims the person has “not cooperated” with an eligibility investigation;

• Even when the homeless person is unable to provide a complete one-year “housing history”;

• Even when the homeless person attempts to document his or her one-year housing history, but the family or friend with whom s/he resided refuses to cooperate with the Department’s eligibility investigation;

• Even when the homeless person, who may suffer from a mental or physical impairment, fails to undergo an evaluation for such an impairment;

• Even when the Department claims that the homeless person’s other “housing option” is another person’s public housing apartment (or some other subsidized housing) and the homeless person’s residency jeopardizes the primary tenant’s subsidized housing;

• Even when DHS investigators have never visited an alleged “housing option” to see if it is actually available and/or suitable to meet the needs of the homeless person;

• Even when the homeless person is unable to produce documentation of their income or past housing history;

• Even when DHS makes a mistake in determining the homeless person’s eligibility for shelter but the homeless person cannot re-apply for shelter because s/he cannot produce “new evidence”; and

• Even when the “housing option” identified by DHS is unsafe but the homeless person has allegedly failed to provide evidence of the safety hazards.

There’s no question that, Mayor Bloomberg’s fantastical rhetoric aside, his shelter denial plan represents the gravest threat in more than a decade to the legal right to shelter for homeless New Yorkers. That’s why Tuesday’s court ruling is so important. And it’s why Coalition for the Homeless and our allies will continue to fight this misguided, dangerous plan.

Court Decision Protects Single Adults from Being Denied Shelter

Today, a court ruling declared that the Bloomberg administration violated the City’s rulemaking process when they announced they were putting in place new eligibility rules for homeless single adults back in November. The proposed eligibility rules would have denied shelter to countless single adults who couldn’t “prove” they had nowhere else to go. Today’s decision essentially stops the City from implementing these misguided eligibility rules and constitutes a big victory for homeless adults.

Both the Legal Aid Society and the City Council were instrumental in winning this decision and we thank them immensely for their hard work. Although the legal fight will undoubtedly continue, we are grateful that this first decision keeps valuable protections in place for homeless single adults.

The Coalition for the Homeless put out the following statement:

“The Court’s decision puts a stop to the Department of Homeless Services’ misguided and dangerous plan to erect new bureaucratic barriers at the shelter door, measures that would lead to more homeless adults sleeping on the streets and the subways in the middle of winter. It should not have taken a judge to stop the City from implementing this dangerous policy. The Coalition thanks New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn for her leadership, and the dedicated legal team at the Legal Aid Society and WilmerHale for their work on the case.”

Additionally, City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, and General Welfare Committee Chair Annabel Palma put out the following statement:

“Today’s Court ruling declaring the Department of Homeless Services’ eligibility requirements for single homeless adults unlawful is a tremendous victory and I commend the Court for its action. The Council has long argued that DHS’ proposed policy would have needlessly put thousands of homeless New Yorkers on the streets by requiring them to provide proof they have nowhere else to stay. This was a wrong-headed policy that put a burden of proof on people who could least shoulder it.

Our city’s homeless people need to be helped – not hindered – in their efforts to locate shelter. The Court’s confirmation that policy changes such as this one must be subject to public notice and comment will ensure that we will be able to work with DHS to create a new policy that will protect, not hurt, the City’s homeless. Moreover, this decision is a victory for all New Yorkers, because it reaffirms that the administration cannot ignore Charter provisions that require agencies to be transparent and accountable to the public. I would like to thank Legal Aid Society and Coalition for the Homeless for their tireless work on this case and for homeless New Yorkers every day.”