Today’s Read: Homeless Savings Plan is ‘Paternalistic,’ New York Pols and Advocates Say

The citywide lack of affordable housing has resulted in an unrelenting homelessness crisis, with more than 61,000 New Yorkers sleeping in shelters each night. Many homeless New Yorkers are employed but still cannot afford rents in the city – in fact, a renter needs to make $30.75 per hour to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment in New York City.

Rather than fully investing in permanent housing to help people move out of shelters and into apartments they can afford, the City has proposed a new Income Savings Plan Program to require single adults in shelters to deposit 30 percent of their earned income into a government-controlled savings account. People who do not comply with this requirement could face sanctions.

The City’s program responds to a savings requirement mandated by State law. However, the proposal violates the right of shelter residents to manage their own financial affairs, imposes new bureaucratic hurdles for homeless people, and does nothing to actually address the root cause of homelessness: the lack of affordable housing. On Tuesday, the Coalition for the Homeless and The Legal Aid Society presented testimony calling on the State to repeal the savings requirement and, in the interim, for the City to change the proposed program to ensure that the rights and needs of homeless New Yorkers are better protected.

Policy Director Giselle Routhier summarized the Coalition’s concerns:

“It’s ridiculous and paternalistic to say that people are homeless because they can’t manage their money. They are homeless because there is a serious lack of truly affordable housing in New York. This misguided savings plan will achieve little beyond creating more hoops for homeless New Yorkers to jump through in order to get the help they need. We urge the State to repeal laws requiring shelter residents to pay rent or participate in a government-enforced savings plan. If the Governor really wants to reduce homelessness, then he should fully fund Home Stability Support and all 20,000 units of supportive housing that he pledged in 2016. We also urge the Mayor step up and build much-needed housing for homeless New Yorkers rather than simply creating more bureaucratic hurdles for those in the greatest need.”

Shant Shahrigian wrote about the proposal for the New York Daily News:

City Councilman Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblyman Harvey Epstein (D-Manhattan) say the “paternalistic” rule unfairly punishes people for being homeless while doing nothing to address the root cause of the problem.

“A forced savings plan takes a one-size-fits-all approach that does not allow for variance in one’s spending lifestyle, but surveils and severely restricts a person’s needed day-to-day budget,” Levin said in a statement.

New York City has encouraged employed homeless shelter residents to put some of their income into savings accounts since 2010. But in August, the state gave the city permission to make its income savings program mandatory.

The de Blasio administration plans to start the new requirements with single people whose incomes are high enough that they don’t qualify for cash assistance from the government.

It wants to expand the income savings program to cover groups like families with kids around next year.

Homeless people wouldn’t be able to withdraw from their savings until they move out of shelters and into permanent housing, or can prove they’re facing an emergency.

Critics say that forcing homeless people to save could impose new expenses on them, like bank fees.

They also say the approach is flawed from the start.

“Homelessness is not a result of money mismanagement on the part of homeless adults and families, but, rather, it is a direct result of the lack of truly affordable housing for the lowest-income New Yorkers,” Joshua Goldfein, a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project, said in a statement.

He called on Gov. Cuomo to nix the proposed savings program requirements and fulfill a 2016 pledge to fund 20,000 units of supportive housing and a statewide rent subsidy called Home Stability Support.

If you are a shelter resident who has questions about the new Income Savings Plan Program, please come to the Coalition’s Crisis Intervention Program to meet with a caseworker.