By Patrick Markee, Deputy Executive Director for Advocacy, Coalition for the Homeless
New York City’s homeless population continued to rise last year, with the number of homeless people sleeping each night in municipal shelters exceeding 60,000 people, including 25,000 children, for the first time ever. And during the last City fiscal year, an all-time-record 116,000 different New Yorkers, including 42,000 different children, slept at least one night in the New York City shelter system.
Last year’s rise in homelessness was the result of New York City’s worsening housing affordability crisis; the lingering effects of Bloomberg-era elimination of housing for homeless children and families; and the failure of the State and City to act quickly enough to restore desperately-needed permanent housing resources for homeless New Yorkers.
The good news, however, is that Mayor de Blasio’s plan to address family homelessness – which aims to move more than 5,000 homeless families out of shelters and into permanent housing – will lead to reductions in child and family homelessness over the coming year. Indeed, there is early evidence that the Mayor’s plan has begun to halt increases in family homelessness for the first time in years. Since December, in fact, the number of homeless families with children actually declined by more than 300 families.
In stark contrast, Governor Cuomo and his administration have done little to address rising New York City homelessness. Indeed, the Governor has opposed efforts to enhance rental assistance for homeless families and has proposed a deeply inadequate supportive housing plan that falls far short of the need.
And the Coalition’s new “State of the Homeless 2015” analysis of City data also details how homelessness has hit New York City children hardest, and disproportionately affects African-American and Latino families. The Coalition’s analysis found that during the last City fiscal year (FY 2014):
This unprecedented homelessness crisis demands bold action by Governor Cuomo, who has needlessly delayed or withheld State authorization to deliver housing-based relief to New York City children languishing in shelters. And despite positive steps to address family homelessness, Mayor de Blasio must do more. Specifically:
The Coalition projects that, if Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio take these bold, yet cost-effective steps, within five years New York City would see unprecedented reductions in family and child homelessness. Specifically, by the end of FY 2019 the number of homeless families and children could be reduced by more than 85 percent, below levels not seen since modern homelessness emerged in early 1980s.
New Analysis Shows the Impact of Inequality on New York City’s Homeless Population
Analysis of newly-released City data by Coalition for the Homeless shows how both racial and ethnic inequality and growing income inequality play an enormous role in shaping New York City’s historic homelessness crisis. The Coalition’s analysis reveals how homelessness disproportionately affects African-American and Latino New Yorkers, and has its most severe impact on children and families.
While the number of homeless people sleeping in the municipal shelter system has risen to all-time record levels over the past decade, the number of African-American and Latino New Yorkers has grown at an even faster rate. And New York City children experience homelessness at an alarming rate.
The impact of homelessness on African-American children in New York City is particularly dire. The Coalition’s examination of recently-released City data show that 1 of every 17 African-American children in New York City slept at least one night in a municipal homeless shelter during the last City fiscal year.
Following are highlights of the Coalition’s analysis of City data showing the impact of worsening inequality on New York City homelessness.
Severe Impact of Homelessness on African-American and Latino Children and Families
More than anything, the Coalition’s analysis shows the disproportionately severe impact of homelessness on New York City families and children, in particular African-American and Latino children.
The Disproportionate Impact on African-American and Latino New Yorkers
The unequal impact of homelessness on African-American and Latino New Yorkers, as well as on children, is illustrated most starkly by comparing New York City population data with newly-released City data about the number of different homeless New Yorkers who utilized the municipal shelter system over the course of a year.
City data also show that, while the number of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness grew over the past decade, the rate of growth for African-American and Latino New Yorkers was higher.
Homeless families make up the large majority of homeless shelter residents and, for the past decade, have been the fastest growing segment of the New York City homeless population. African-American and Latino families in New York City are even more disproportionately impacted by homelessness than the total population.
The disproportionate impact of homelessness on African-American and Latino New Yorkers is in large part a reflection of the higher poverty rates (i.e., percent of the population with incomes below the federal poverty line) for non-white New Yorkers.
The Impact of Homelessness on Poor New Yorkers
The impact of homelessness on the poorest New Yorkers – those with annual incomes below the federal poverty line (currently $20,090 for a family of three) – was also, unsurprisingly, quite severe.
Overview of the Past Year: NYC Homelessness Continued to Rise, Driven by Affordability Crisis and Legacy of Bloomberg-era Policies
The historic homelessness crisis that Mayor de Blasio inherited grew even worse during his first year in office, due to three factors:
As a result, New York City’s homeless shelter population continued to rise over the past year, increasing 13 percent to an average nightly census of 60,670 people in January 2015.
However, over the coming year there are signs that, because of reforms introduced by Mayor de Blasio and his administration, the number of homeless families and children will begin to decline for the first time in nearly a decade. At the same time, unfortunately, Governor Cuomo and his administration have done little to address the historic crisis.
There is no question that Governor Cuomo can and must do more. In particular, as detailed in the last section of this report, Governor Cuomo must fully fund an urgently-needed City-State agreement to create permanent supportive housing and must enhance inadequate rental assistance programs. And while Mayor de Blasio has taken positive steps to address family homelessness, he must do more to target more federal and City permanent housing resources to help homeless families and individuals.
Primary Causes of Rising NYC Homelessness Last Year
One of the major causes of rising homelessness in New York City during 2014 remains unchanged from recent years: The acute and worsening housing affordability crisis.
By every measure, New Yorkers have experienced a widening gap between incomes and rents. This widening affordability gap was most acute for poor and low-income New Yorkers, who in recent years saw their incomes fall or stagnate in real terms at the same time that apartment rents continued to rise.
Recently-released data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 “Housing and Vacancy Survey” confirm the severity of the housing affordability crisis in New York City. The survey’s initial findings show that:
The growing affordability gap also explains why the number of working homeless New Yorkers has risen so dramatically in recent years, with nearly one-third of homeless families now working but earning too little to afford market-rate apartment rents.
The widening gap between incomes and rents has contributed to rising number of evictions. Recent historical data on evictions – included in a comprehensive November 2014 report from the NYC Independent Budget Office – provide some of the strongest new evidence for the impact of the affordability crisis on New York City’s growing homeless population.
Legacy of Disastrous Bloomberg-era Homeless Policies
The other major cause of rising homelessness in 2014 was the legacy of former Mayor Bloomberg’s destructive homeless policies, and the failure of the State and City to act quickly to reverse those flawed Bloomberg-era policies.
As the Coalition has noted in past “State of the Homeless” reports, the most disastrous policy of the Bloomberg administration was the elimination of all permanent housing assistance designed to help homeless families and children move from shelters to their own homes. This began with Bloomberg’s 2005 policy ending the priority use of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) public housing apartments and federal Section 8 housing vouchers to help homeless families, as well as the failure to allocate City-subsidized housing to homeless New Yorkers. Bloomberg compounded that error by replacing proven federal housing programs with flawed temporary rental assistance programs which forced thousands of families back into homelessness – programs which he then eliminated entirely four years ago.
Nothing illustrated the failures of Bloomberg-era homeless policy than the former administration’s soaring use of so-called “cluster-site shelter” – low-income apartment buildings used as temporary shelter. This deeply misguided model of shelter was widely criticized by policy experts, advocates, elected officials, and community groups. Under the policy, the City paid $3,000/month or more to shelter families in apartments which would rent for a fraction of the cost. And many of the apartments had numerous health and safety hazards, as a March 2015 NYC Department of Investigation report documented in detail. Despite the disastrous failures of the policy, under Bloomberg the City increased the number of homeless families in cluster-site shelter to around 3,000 families per night, representing one quarter of all homeless families with children.
Upon taking office, Mayor de Blasio pledged to reverse these failed policies in order to address the homelessness crisis he inherited from Bloomberg. Early in 2014 the de Blasio administration proposed the creation of new, improved City-State rental assistance programs to help homeless families secure their own apartments. And Mayor de Blasio promised to resume priority referrals of homeless families to public housing apartments. In addition, last summer the de Blasio administration began reducing payments to cluster-site landlords, using the savings to finance rental assistance.
However, due to budget and policy disputes with the Cuomo administration, the State did not approve the new rental assistance programs, called Living in Communities (LINC), until August. Moreover, the State rejected the City’s proposal to set the rent levels for the LINC programs at federal “Fair Market Rent” limits, which would have made the programs competitive with the federal Section 8 voucher program.
Thus the implementation of the new LINC rental assistance programs was hampered this past autumn by the reluctance of private landlords, who said that the State-imposed rent levels were too low and who felt burned by the deeply-flawed Bloomberg-era programs. Late last year, however, the de Blasio administration appropriated City funds to raise the rent levels of the LINC program to “Fair Market Rent” levels and made other improvements to the program. In December the City also created two new, City-funded LINC programs for homeless single adults and childless families.
Mayor de Blasio also reversed the Bloomberg-era policy denying NYCHA public housing apartments to homeless families. In June, the City announced it would resume priority referrals of homeless families to available NYCHA apartments. However, instead of the 2,500 public housing apartments that the Coalition for the Homeless, advocates, and many elected officials urged the City to target to homeless families, the de Blasio administration allocated only 750 apartments, less than 13 percent of NYCHA vacancies each year. And the City exhausted that allocation by early autumn.
As a result of the delays in the new City-State rental assistance programs and the inadequate allocation of NYCHA resources, throughout 2014 the City moved only around 1,000 homeless families from shelters to permanent housing, with nearly all of those placements occurring after August. This more than anything explains the consistent rise in the number of homeless families during the year. The legacy of the failed Bloomberg-era policies, combined with delays in reversing those policies, meant that homeless families remained in shelters with little-to-no access to housing assistance designed to help them obtain their own homes.
Tracking the Numbers: Highlights of 2014 in NYC Homelessness
Following are highlights of the past year in homelessness in New York City.
During the last City fiscal year (FY 2014), more people turned to the New York City shelter system than ever before.
Another reason for the rise in family homelessness was that more families entered the New York City shelter system in 2014 than during the previous year – despite the fact that fewer families applied for shelter.
The exorbitant cost of the homeless shelter system and other emergency services also continued to rise last year, one of the concrete legacies of failed Bloomberg-era policies.
All in all, the Bloomberg legacy of eliminating permanent housing resources for homeless New Yorkers resulted in staggering increases in New York City’s homeless population over the past decade.
Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio Must Take Bold Action to Address New York City’s Historic Homelessness Crisis
With New York City’s homeless shelter population exceeding 60,000 people per night, both Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio must take bold action to address the historic homelessness crisis.
As noted in the last section of this report, under a plan implemented by Mayor de Blasio, the number of homeless families and children will decline for the first time in nearly a decade. Despite this important step forward, however, Governor Cuomo and his administration have unfortunately done little to address the historic crisis. And the Mayor must also do more to achieve deeper reductions in family homelessness.
In particular, Governor Cuomo must fully fund an urgently-needed City-State agreement to create permanent supportive housing and must enhance inadequate rental assistance programs. And Mayor de Blasio must target more federal and City permanent housing resources to help homeless families and individuals.
Family Homelessness: Mayor’s Plan Will Lead to Reduction in Number of Homelessness Children and Families
Unveiled last August, the de Blasio administration’s family homelessness plan aims to help more than 5,200 homeless families move from shelters to permanent housing over the coming year. The plan includes:
Moreover, in December the de Blasio administration expanded the LINC programs to assist an additional 2,100 homeless adults, including seniors and people living with disabilities (LINC IV program), and working shelter residents (LINC V). And the de Blasio administration has expanded funding for homelessness prevention, including anti-eviction legal services and rent-arrears grants. According to City officials, as of early March 2015 more than 500 homeless families with children have been re-located from shelters to permanent housing with the three family LINC programs. And more than 400 homeless adults have been placed into housing through the new LINC IV and V programs.
All in all, according to the Coalition’s analysis, the City’s plan will stem the increase in family homelessness seen in recent years and lead to actual reductions in the number of homeless families and children in New York City shelters – the first such reductions in nearly a decade.
Indeed, there is already evidence of the positive impact of the Mayor’s plan. Preliminary data show that the number of homeless families with children declined by nearly 300 families per night (around 900 adults and children) between December 2014 and February 2015. And comprehensive shelter census data used in this report show that the total homeless shelter census decreased slightly (by 269 people) from December 2014 to January 2015, the largest month-to-month reduction in nearly four years.
However, the decline in the number of homeless families with children has been offset by the continuing rise in the number of homeless single adults and childless families, both at all-time record levels. And given that Mayor de Blasio inherited an already-historic crisis – with more than 25,000 children and 14,000 families still sleeping each night in homeless shelters – there is much more that both the City and State must do.
Governor Cuomo’s Failure to Commit Appropriate Resources to Address Homelessness
In the midst of record homelessness in New York City, Governor Cuomo and his administration have done little to address the crisis. Moreover, the Governor and State officials have, over the past year, opposed or watered down efforts by the City to expand housing programs aimed at reducing New York City’s homeless population.
Last spring, after Mayor de Blasio proposed new rental assistance programs for homeless families and sought a change in State budget language to permit the creation of those programs, Governor Cuomo initially rejected the Mayor’s request. After last-minute negotiations, the final State budget included some but not all of the changes sought by the City. As a result, the State funds only one of the three Living in Community (LINC) programs for families; another’s funding is conditioned on reductions in family shelter expenses; and the third of the programs has no State funding whatsoever.
During subsequent negotiations between the City and State over the creation of the new LINC rental assistance programs for homeless families, the State rejected several City proposals aimed at enhancing the programs. Most important, the Cuomo administration refused the City’s request to set rent levels for the new programs at federal “Fair Market Rent” levels, thus making the programs competitive with the successful federal Section 8 voucher program. (For two-bedroom apartments, the State limited LINC maximum rents to $1,200/month, compared to “Fair Market Rent” levels of $1,481/month.) As a result, when the programs were rolled out in September, landlords rebuffed the new rent subsidies, repeatedly citing the too-low rent levels. And in November, City officials were forced to increase the LINC program rent levels using City tax levy funds.
State officials have also opposed the efforts of City officials and advocates to improve the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement (FEPS) program, a rental assistance programs designed to prevent homelessness and ensure housing stability for welfare families facing eviction. State-mandate FEPS rent levels are well below “Fair Market Rent” levels – $850/month (in some cases ($1,050/month), compared to $1,481/month for a two-bedroom apartment. These unrealistic restrictions make it extraordinarily difficult to assist many needy families, but State officials have thus far rejected requests to increase the rent levels.
Finally, in his recent State budget proposal for the coming State fiscal year, Governor Cuomo offered a deeply inadequate proposal for a new City-State agreement to create supportive housing. For the past 25 years, the City and State have partnered on three historic “New York/New York Agreements” that have created 14,000 units of permanent supportive housing in New York City and have contributed to significant reductions in homelessness on the streets and in shelters.
However, with the third agreement slated to expire this year and the need greater than ever, the Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing – comprised of more than 200 New York organizations – called on the Governor and Mayor to negotiate a new agreement to create 30,000 units of supportive housing over the next decade. And Mayor de Blasio’s recent budget plan included more than $2 billion in capital funding for supportive housing and other special needs housing, enough to build more than 12,000 supportive housing units over the next ten years.
Unfortunately, Governor Cuomo’s budget and his own “NY/NY IV” proposal fall far short of the need. The Governor’s proposal would create only 5,000 supportive housing units statewide over a seven-year development plan, with only 3,923 in New York City. In short, the Governor’s proposal would provide on average only 560 supportive housing units per year, compared to 900 units/year created under the “NY/NY III Agreement,” and the 3,000 units/year called for by advocates.
Facing a Historic Crisis, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio Must Do More
All in all, over the past year Governor Cuomo and State officials have done little to address the worsening homelessness crisis in New York City. And while Mayor de Blasio has laid the groundwork to halt the rise in the number of homeless families and children, much more can and must be done to confront this historic crisis. This includes urgently-needed investments in permanent supportive housing, enhanced rental assistance, and targeting more federal and City-subsidized housing resources to homeless New Yorkers.
As noted above, Mayor de Blasio’s plan to confront family homelessness is a significant step forward that will achieve long-overdue reductions in family homelessness. The Coalition projects that, if the City’s plan to re-locate 5,200 homeless families per year from shelter to permanent housing is sustained, the number of families and children in shelters will decrease this year and, within five years (by the end of FY 2019), the number of homeless families in shelter will decline by 40 percent. Nonetheless, while this would be a welcome achievement, it would still leave an estimated 8,500 homeless families with 15,000 children sleeping each night in shelters five years from now.
However, if Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio take the bold steps outlined here – re-locating 7,500 families form shelter to permanent housing annually plus enhanced rental assistance to prevent homelessness – New York City will instead see unprecedented reductions in homelessness. Indeed, according to the Coalition’s projection, within five years (by the end of FY 2019) the number of homeless families and children would drop by 85 percent to an estimated 2,100 families – a level of family homelessness not seen since the early 1980s, when modern homelessness first emerged in New York City.
Following are the bold actions that the Governor and Mayor must take to achieve these dramatic reductions in New York City homelessness:
1. Governor Cuomo Must Fully Fund a New City-State Supportive Housing Agreement, and Enhance Rental Assistance Programs to Prevent Homelessness and Re-house Homeless New Yorkers
Governor Cuomo must negotiate with Mayor de Blasio a renewed City-State “New York/New York Agreement” to create and fully fund services for 30,000 units of permanent supportive housing over the next decade. Consistent with the recommendations of the Campaign 4 NY/NY Housing – which has been endorsed by more than 200 New York organizations including the Coalition – a fourth “New York/New York Agreement” should do the following:
State-funded rental assistance programs are critical to reducing record homelessness. While the new LINC rental assistance programs are a significant improvement on the deeply-flawed rent subsidies of the Bloomberg era, they can be improved to better protect families and ensure housing stability – and the State must play a bigger role in funding the programs in order to assist more homeless families and individuals in the coming years. In addition, the State should end its opposition to increasing rent levels for the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement (FEPS) program – which prevents homelessness for thousands of vulnerable families and could assist many more – and for welfare housing allowances, whose rent levels have not been increased in years and are deeply inadequate.
Here is how Governor Cuomo and his administration can enhance vital rental assistance programs:
2. Mayor de Blasio Must Target More Federal and City Housing Resources to Homeless New Yorkers
Mayor de Blasio’s family homelessness plan is a positive first step, but more can be done to help thousands more homeless families and children.
First, while Mayor de Blasio reversed the disastrous Bloomberg-era policy that cut off federal housing aid to homeless families and children, he has agreed to allocate only 750 NYCHA public housing apartments each year to homeless families, less than 13 percent of available NYCHA apartments. The Mayor must:
Second, Mayor de Blasio’s “Housing New York” ten-year, 200,000-unit affordable housing plan so far falls short on targeting apartments to homeless families and individuals. In contrast, under Mayor Koch’s landmark ten-year housing plan, more than 10 percent of all housing units built or rehabilitated – 15,674 apartments out of 150,682 assisted under the plan – were targeted to homeless families and individuals. And the Koch plan contributed to sharp reductions in family homelessness in the late 1980s. Building on this successful legacy, Mayor de Blasio must:
Finally, Mayor de Blasio must begin to phase out the use of “cluster-site shelter” by taking the following steps:
As noted above, if Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio take the actions described here, New York City will see unprecedented reductions in homelessness. According to the Coalition’s projection, within five years (by the end of FY 2019) the number of homeless families and children would drop by 85 percent to an estimated 2,100 families – a level of family homelessness not seen since the early 1980s, when modern homelessness first emerged in New York City.
Notes on Data Sources