Advantage Court Ruling: Bad for Homeless NYers, Bad for Taxpayers, but There’s a Better Solution

As we reported here yesterday, A New York State Supreme Court judge rules late Tuesday against plaintiffs in a lass-action lawsuit challenging the City’s attempt to cut off Advantage rent subsidies for more than 12,000 formerly-homeless households. The court decision was covered by the Wall Street JournalReuters, and NY1 News.

Fortunately there is still an Appellate Division court order in effect requiring the City to continue paying rental assistance for Advantage tenants, but the City will undoubtedly seek to vacate that order — and in any event, the legal struggle on behalf of thousands of vulnerable families and individuals will continue.

We’re written a lot about the flaws of the Advantage program, and about the City’s obligation, notwithstanding those flaws, to honor its commitment to families who left shelter with the promise of receiving temporary rental assistance. But in light of the court ruling, it’s worth highlighting a few facts:

1. Not only are formerly-homeless families the losers in the court decision, but so are taxpayers.

The cost of shelter for a homeless family — a whopping $3,000 per month — is more than three times as much as the typical Advantage rent subsidy ($700-$1,000 per month). So, when thousands of former Advantage families come back to the municipal shelter system, just as thousands have already done, taxpayers will pick up the tab.

As Steve Banks, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Legal Aid Society, which represents Advantage tenants in the lawsuit, told the Associated Press:

“By winning, the city loses, since now thousands of formerly homeless families and individuals are at risk of losing their homes and flooding the shelter system.”

2. Homeless families have already lost — and NYC family homelessness is on the rise.

As bad as the danger faced by current Advantage tenants is, homeless families residing in the shelter system now and in the future have already been harmed irreparably.

Simply put, since Mayor Bloomberg ended the Advantage program back in March, there is no housing assistance available to help homeless children and families move from shelter back to the community. Indeed, Mayor Bloomberg is the first mayor since modern homelessness began three decades ago to have no plan for helping homeless families move from shelters to permanent housing.

The results are predictable and alarming. Already there are more homeless families with children crowding the shelter system than when the City ended the Advantage program in March. The homeless family population has grown steadily for the past few months and will no doubt continue to do so. And homeless families are staying in shelter longer: Before the Bloomberg administration cancelled the Advantage program, a homeless family’s average stay in shelter was nine months, and now it is eleven months.

3. There is a better, cheaper alternative.

As we discussed in our State of the Homeless 2011 report, the Bloomberg administration’s failed approach to the problem of homelessness has already led to record homeless populations and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the expensive shelter system.

Fortunately, there is a better way. Mayor Bloomberg ought to go back to the proven, successful policy of allocating one in three Federal housing resources to help homeless New Yorkrs move from shelters back to the community. This sensible approach will reduce family homelessness, save taxpayer dollars, and protect countless children from the hardships of homelessness.

You can join our “One in Three” campaign here.