Today’s Read: de Blasio is Pressed to Use More Federal Tools Against Homelessness

New York’s historic homelessness crisis, in which more than 61,000 men, women, and children go to sleep in shelters every night, demands bold solutions. Permanent rent subsidies – along with a significant increase in capital spending on new housing units for homeless individuals and families – are essential tools in helping people move out of shelters and into stable homes of their own.

Today, the Coalition released a new brief, “Recovering from the Lost Decade: Permanent Rent Supplements a Potent Tool for Reducing Homelessness.” The report examines the history of both effective and ineffective rent supplements provided to homeless New Yorkers and offers recommendations to improve and expand proven solutions. Although Mayor de Blasio has taken some key steps toward reversing Bloomberg-era policies that essentially blocked the pathway out of shelters, the City must immediately bring effective solutions to scale to repair the damage of the “Lost Decade” in which virtually no Federally funded long-term rent supplements were provided to homeless households.

Mayor de Blasio has the power to immediately help make up the deficit in stable housing placements accumulated during that “Lost Decade” by doubling the number of NYCHA units allocated to homeless families each year. The City should also continue to help at least 4,500 families and single adults annually move from shelters to permanent homes with City-initiated rent supplements, and ensure that all homeless households receive housing application and housing search assistance. The State must also play an important role in tackling record homelessness, by implementing the Home Stability Support long-term rent subsidy program, reinstating the Involuntarily Displaced Families program, expanding the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) program, and increasing the amount of the Rent Subsidy for Foster Care Prevention, Reunification, and Independent Living to at least $600 per month.

Jarrett Murphy wrote about the Coalition’s new report and the urgent need for further action on homelessness for City Limits:

In a new report, the Coalition for the Homeless points to research indicating that families who receive permanent rent supplements—which Section 8 and NYCHA housing represent–“achieve housing stability and only rarely fall back into homelessness.” One of the problems with HSP and Advantage was that many families ended up back in shelters once the benefits ran out.

De Blasio’s subsidy programs, like LINC, are better designed and, according to the Coalition, have helped reduce the rate of families returning to shelter. But by offering permanence, Section 8 and NYCHA are still seen as superior, and while de Blasio has re-established priority for homeless families to get those resources, he has not made as many slots available as there were before Bloomberg de-linked them.

“There currently remains a deficit of 1,400 placements per year, compared with the pre-2005 levels. The accumulated deficit is now over 36,000 fewer Federally funded housing placements for homeless families since 2005 – a veritable Lost Decade that has undoubtedly contributed heavily to record homelessness in New York City,” the Coalition’s report reads.

The group calls for the city to boost the number of homeless households given NYCHA placements to 3,000 a year. It also advocates for the state to approve Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi’s idea for a Home Stability Support program that would replace and expand the city’s LINC initiative and other voucher programs. The Coalition also recommends an increase in foster-care subsidies and a return to a 1990s program that set aside a share of vacant Mitchell-Lama units for the homeless.

“NYCHA and Section 8 remain the largest, most sustainable, most dependable resource. And NYCHA frankly can take more people coming out of shelter,” [Councilmember Stephen Levin] says. “It is good that the de Blasio administration reversed that policy. I know that they could go further. I know they’re trying to balance priorities. And I know there is a long waiting list for NYCHA. I understand their reluctance. But we have an ongoing homelessness crisis in the city.”

“We have to learn from the policy mistakes that have been made in the past. We really can’t overstate the impact of having no [federal] housing subsidies for nearly a decade on the current state of record homelessness,” says Giselle Routhier, the policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless. “What we need to learn from that is the effectiveness of permanent affordable housing in actually reducing homelessness and underscoring the need now for robust solutions that are going to match the scale of the need.”