New Report: Half of “Advantage” Families Back in the NYC Shelter System

Coalition for the Homeless released a new report with fresh evidence that the Bloomberg administration’s flawed Advantage program was a revolving door back to homelessness for thousands of families and children – and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

The new report, “The Revolving Door Keeps Spinning,” was covered by the Wall Street Journal and based on City data obtained pursuant to a freedom of information law request – the report can be found here.

The Coalition’s analysis found that:

• As of August 2013, nearly half (49.4 percent) of all Advantage families whose housing subsidy expired had already returned to the New York City shelter system.

• More than 8,500 Advantage families, with more than 18,000 children and 12,000 adults, returned to the shelter system after their Advantage housing subsidy expired.

• During the current year, an average of more than seven Advantage families per day (or 225 Advantage families per month) returned to the shelter system.

• The cost to taxpayers of Advantage families returning to shelter is nearly $287 million and climbing.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Saul reported, the failures of the Advantage program have contributed to soaring and record-high homelessness in New York City:

New York City homeless shelters—swelling with record-high populations not seen since the Great Depression—are increasingly being sought out by people who participated in a now-defunct rent-subsidy program designed to reduce homelessness, according to a report to be released Saturday.

The author of the report, the Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit advocacy group, held up the report as evidence that homeless families need longer-term government help with rent to stay out of the shelter system. Since the rental-payment program, known as Advantage, was canceled by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration after state budget cuts in June 2011, the city’s homeless shelter system population has grown to its highest-ever levels: 52,000 people, including 22,000 children.

As of August, the coalition report found, 49.4% of family placements in the Advantage program had returned to the shelter system, climbing from 24.5% nearly three years ago. The numbers rose rapidly as subsidies ran out in 2012, with more than 300 families a month seeking shelter from the city during that summer after losing their rent subsidies. In 2013, more than 200 such families were entering shelters each month, the report said.

Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless and author of the report, said he hopes the de Blasio administration will learn from the “policy failures” of the Bloomberg administration. Mr. Markee and other advocates have turned their attention in recent months toward creating a new rental subsidy to deal with the city’s burgeoning numbers of homeless.

“We now have overwhelming evidence that short-term housing subsidies like the flawed Advantage program force thousands of children and families back into homelessness and cost taxpayers millions in avoidable shelter costs,” Mr. Markee said. “The new mayor can work with the state to craft a far better housing subsidy to reduce New York City’s record-high homeless population.”

As Mayor de Blasio takes office, he will sadly inherit an unprecedented homelessness crisis, with more than 52,000 homeless people, including more than 22,000 children, bedding down each night in municipal shelters. Fortunately the new mayor has an opportunity to reverse Mayor Bloomberg’s disastrous homeless policies, which have contributed to all-time record homelessness in New York City, and to embrace proven housing-based solutions. We look forward to working with the de Blasio administration to achieve that goal.

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