Ignoring the Facts: Some Bad Arguments Just Won’t Go Away

Recent editorials by the Daily News and New York Post highlight the ongoing homelessness crisis facing the City: According to the Coalition for the Homeless, more than 60,000 men, women, and children are sleeping in NYC shelters each night.

The crisis is indeed severe, and demands a strong and coordinated response from the City and State. But instead of calling for real solutions, both editorials roll out a worn-out and disproven refrain about “voluntary homelessness” – the notion that families voluntarily become homeless to access rental subsidies. This tired argument has been disproved by academics across the spectrum, most notably by Brendan O’Flaherty and Michael Cragg in 1997. A wealth of other research is summarized here, and is noted in the recent publication of Homelessness in New York City by Thomas Main of Baruch College.

But even if one chooses to disregard sound academic research, it’s hard to ignore the cold hard facts of the shelter census itself. Between 2005 and 2014, a period during which the City ceased prioritizing homeless families for federal housing resources – exacerbated by the Bloomberg administration pulling the plug on its sole rental assistance program in 2011 – the shelter system experienced the most prolonged increase than at any time since the City started keeping statistics. During that time the number of New Yorkers in shelter rose from roughly 36,000 to nearly 61,000 – an increase of nearly 70 percent.

If we are serious about ending record homelessness, we should be focused on the only proven solution: permanent affordable housing. As all New Yorkers are acutely aware, the increase in rents has far outpaced gains in incomes over the past decade, resulting in a housing affordability crisis of historic proportions. We need solutions that match the scale of the problem, including a few steps that can be taken immediately:

  • The City should utilize more of its available housing resources to house homeless families, including available NYCHA public housing and Section 8 vouchers to reduce the number of individuals and families in shelter;
  • Landlords must cease illegal discrimination against tenants who receive rental assistance as a form of income;
  • The State must immediately release the nearly $2 billion sitting idle for crucial supportive and affordable housing resources;
  • Cuomo should adopt Assembly Member Hevesi’s statewide Home Stability Support plan to provide rent subsidies for low-income households at risk of homelessness as well as those staying in shelters, outside, or doubled-up in the home of another.