FACT VS. SPIN: Bloomberg’s Homeless Housing Record

Today we inaugurate an occasional feature called “Fact vs. Spin,” an attempt to counter some of the false, inaccurate spin about homelessness and housing policy that is, sadly, all-too-often perpetrated by public officials and pundits and then transmitted by the news media.

A fine recent example can be found in a very brief piece recently published in Crain’s New York Business (link here, subscription required):

The Bloomberg administration this week celebrated the 100,000th unit of affordable housing it has preserved or created, but some critics are not impressed. Only 4% of the units have gone to the homeless, compared with 10% under a Koch administration housing program, according to Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless. But a city official who worked on housing under Mayor Koch says that the Bloomberg administration’s strategy prevents homelessness, and that comparisons are misleading because Koch had 100,000 vacant, in rem units to work with. “That was a different world,” the official says.

The spin in this article is easy to spot because it involves assertions utterly unsupported by facts. For instance, the unnamed Koch administration official claims that the Bloomberg administration’s housing plan “prevents homelessness.”

The reality, however, is that homelessness has reached all-time record levels under Mayor Bloomberg, and last year 45 percent more homeless New Yorkers slept in New York City shelters compared to when the Mayor took office. If the Mayor’s housing plan actually “prevents” homelessness, it has to be rated as a miserable failure.

Second, the anonymous official also refers to the City’s stock of tax-foreclosed (in rem) properties in the 1980s and describes it as a “different world.”

While the City did indeed have more in rem housing two decades ago, that is irrelevant to the issue of how many City-funded apartments are targeted to homeless families and individuals – whether they were once in rem units, new construction, or in rehabilitated buildings.

And as the chart below illustrates, so far under Mayor Bloomberg only 3,197 housing units have been created for homeless households out of the 100,000 completed to date – that is, less than 4 percent of the total. That is compared to the more than 15,000 housing units created for homeless people under Mayor Koch’s ten-year “Housing New York” program.


Finally, you know it’s spin when the spinner utterly ignores the bigger picture. And here that involves the relative scale of New York City’s homeless problem under Koch and Bloomberg.

As the chart below shows, under Mayor Koch the municipal shelter population never exceeded 29,000 homeless people, while under Mayor Bloomberg the shelter population soared to more than 39,000 people in recent months.

Thus, with fewer homeless New Yorkers, Mayor Koch launched a much more ambitious – and successful – effort to create affordable housing for homeless families and individuals. And in this light, Mayor Bloomberg’s lesser effort is even more troubling.


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