2,600 More Homeless NYC Families?

UPDATE:  To send a letter urging the Bloomberg administration to help the 2,600 at-risk families, please click here.

Back in December, the Bloomberg administration broke a promise to provide housing vouchers to 2,600 needy families. Six months later, the Mayor still hasn’t helped these families.

As we noted here just before the Christmas holidays, on December 17th the City announced that it was reneging on a promise made to nearly 2,600 low-income families. The City rescinded Federal housing vouchers which had already been issued to the families, largely because the New York City Housing Authority had ignored Federal officials’ warnings to stop issuing vouchers beginning back in May 2009.

The majority of the affected families are formerly homeless — indeed, some 1,500 of the families were part of the City’s flawed Advantage NY programs — and many are living with disabilities or are survivors of domestic violence. Back in December, the families feared that losing the promised vouchers would force them into homelessness.  And for at least 27 of the affected families, City officials have admitted, those fears have become a reality and they are sleeping in municipal shelters.

Last week WCBS News’ Marcia Kramer talked to some of the affected families — the moving video of her interviews is available here. Kramer visited one woman, Marissa Dawson, who’s been forced to live in overcrowded conditions with her children in a single room in a sister’s apartment:

Dawson and her two daughters are now living out of suitcases, temporarily sharing one bedroom of her sister’s apartment. She was forced to leave her own apartment a month ago after the city canceled her housing subsidy.

She said she doesn’t know what she will do. She said the shelter is not an option.

“Not only is it a setback for me, but when my kids was in the shelter their grades was all the way down. So to do that to them again is like ‘oh boy here we go again,'” Dawson said.

In the news report, NYC Public Advocate Bill de Blasio makes the case that the Bloomberg administration’s failure to fix the problem will cost taxpayers more money in the long run. De Blasio says that providing rental assistance to the 2,600 families would cost $21 million/year, while the cost of providing shelter to those families will be at least $35 million/year.

Frankly, given that it costs a whopping $38,000/year to shelter a homeless family in NYC, our math says it will cost even more if all of the affected families are forced into the municipal shelter system, and that doesn’t even account for additional benefits and expenses. In fact, the 27 affected families who have already turned to the shelter system will cost taxpayers nearly $750,000 — while rent subsidies would have cost a fraction of that.

Coalition for the Homeless and other advocates have recommended a series of common-sense, cost-effective ways the Bloomberg administration can fix this mess — a mess, let us remember, that the administration itself created. The City could use Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing funds allocated under the Federal stimulus bill or provide short-term rental assistance until Federal housing vouchers become available again next year. Likewise, for those families who’ve already lost their homes (like Ms. Dawson in the WCBS report), the City could prioritize applications for public housing.

At the end of the day, though, the issue is responsibility. Bloomberg administration officials frequently like to sermonize about “personal responsibility” when it comes to homeless and poor New Yorkers (see here and here). Maybe Mayor Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs, and other City officials should start acknowledging their own responsibility, and finally honor promises made to some vulnerable children and families.

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