Today’s Read: Homelessness is a Housing Problem

In a comprehensive article for City & State, Ben Adler explains how a lack of affordable housing in New York City has fueled record homelessness. Citing historical data and research-backed policies, Adler writes, “Homelessness is mainly a housing problem, and it can only be reduced through comprehensive housing policy solutions.” He proposes affordable housing reforms that can help address the roots of the crisis, such as for the New York City government to “integrate housing and homelessness policy” because “no amount of spending on homelessness can put people into affordable apartments that do not exist.”

To amplify this message that housing is the answer to homelessness, the Coalition has joined together with dozens of other organizations and elected officials to launch the House Our Future NY campaign. Currently, the Mayor’s Housing New York 2.0 affordable housing plan sets aside only 5 percent of the units for homeless households – nowhere near enough to even start to meet the tremendous need. We are calling on Mayor de Blasio to increase the number of units for homeless New Yorkers to 30,000, with 24,000 of those to be created through new construction.

Adler’s article explores the economic and political forces that led to record homelessness – and the impact on real New Yorkers, including Coalition clients, who have been pushed out of the housing market entirely:

“Everybody has a misconception,” said Rhonda Jackson, a 57-year-old Queens native who lived in shelters for a year. Jackson used to work for the MTA in a token booth at Manhattan’s Fulton Street station. Traumatized by the nearby attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she quit her job and left the city. When she returned to New York last year to be near her family, she could not afford a market-rate apartment. “I am the new homeless,” said Jackson, who now lives in an affordable unit in a new building in Williamsburg but has been able to find only sporadic retail employment. “I am not that person on the subway who doesn’t want to go in shelter. I’m not that person sleeping on the bench. I’m a working person who had some mishaps and just doesn’t have a place to live.”

Unlike some other spikes in homelessness, this is primarily an economic, rather than social, predicament. “The driver of homelessness in New York City today – as opposed to earlier times … when deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill was happening – is (a) lack of affordable housing and rising housing costs,” said Oksana Mironova, housing policy analyst for the Community Service Society of New York.

New York City has long been expensive, but the problem has grown dramatically since the last recession. “From 2010 to 2017, New York City rents rose twice as fast as wages,” a data analysis by StreetEasy, the real estate website, found. While asking rents increased by 3.9 percent annually, median wages rose just 1.8 percent per year. This imbalance is most acute for low-income households: “The city’s lowest earners saw the least amount of wage growth, while the lowest bracket of rents increased the most (4.9 percent annually) since 2010,” StreetEasy reported. A 2017 report by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University showed that the proportion of rental homes affordable to a household making 80 percent of the area median income declined from 53.4 percent in 2006 to 40.5 percent in 2016.

The shortage of units in the market’s low end has led to intense competition for them, resulting in not just rising prices but a simple dearth of open units. Using data provided by the New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey, a study conducted once every three years by the city, CSSNY found that apartments under $800 a month have a minuscule 1.15 percent vacancy rate, compared to a 7.42 percent vacancy rate in units that cost over $2,000 a month.

“The fundamental reason for homelessness is a lack of affordable housing. The mayor’s housing plan doesn’t match the scale of the homelessness problem,” said Shelly Nortz, deputy executive director for policy at Coalition for the Homeless. “It doesn’t target the resources to the people in greatest need,” Nortz added, referring to the large number of affordable units for households with six-figure incomes. “There’s a distribution of housing resources in the mayor’s housing plan that is skewed away from those most in need.”

Read the full article here.

Please add your voice by signing the House Our Future NY petition for more permanent housing for homeless New Yorkers.