Today’s Read: A Plan to Help Solve the City’s Housing Crisis

The persistent citywide housing affordability crisis has led to near-record homelessness, with more than 61,000 New Yorkers – including nearly 23,000 kids – sleeping in shelters tonight. An estimated half of renters pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and over 70 percent of low-income renters pay more than 50 percent of their income on housing. Many renter households are just one missed paycheck or unforeseen setback away from falling behind in rent and ending up homeless.

Mayor de Blasio has taken some important steps to prevent homelessness, such as guaranteeing low-income tenants access to an attorney in housing court and increasing funding for grants to pay off rental arrears. However, the City must do much more to provide the families and individuals who do become homeless with the permanent housing they so desperately need. The Mayor’s much-touted Housing New York plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years unfortunately fails to dedicate enough housing to homeless New Yorkers: Currently, the City is placing only about 300 households per year into the plan’s “homeless set-aside” units. It is no surprise then that even with this ambitious housing plan, the Mayor expects to decrease the shelter census by a mere 2,500 people over the next five years, as outlined in Turning the Tide on Homelessness released this past February.

The reality is that the City will not reduce the shelter population in any meaningful way or address the root causes of the homelessness crisis until it brings all of its permanent housing solutions to a level matching the magnitude of the problem. In addition to using Federally funded permanent housing resources such as NYCHA and Section 8, the City must adjust its affordable housing targets to dedicate more units to people with the greatest housing needs.

Given the scale of the problem, the Coalition for the Homeless has urged Mayor de Blasio to create a new capital development program to finance construction of at least 10,000 additional units of affordable housing for homeless households over the next five years.

Jarrett Murphy wrote in The Nation about the limitations of the Mayor’s housing plan in meeting the needs of the poorest New Yorkers:

The bulk of the mayor’s 2014 plan aimed at households making $43,000 to $69,000 a year. These are hardly wealthy people by national standards, but even those income levels are out of whack with the incomes people make in the neighborhoods where de Blasio has proposed major redevelopment plans. The median income in East Harlem in 2015 was just $30,400, according to New York University’s Furman Center. In the Highbridge section of the Bronx, it was $26,400.

That income mismatch has two implications. One is that the vast majority of households in the neighborhoods where the mayor plans to focus a lot of building will be boxed out of the new apartments. A second is that de Blasio’s affordable-housing plan will draw into these neighborhoods households with higher incomes than current residents. Along with the market-rate housing the mayor wants to see built, that creates a risk of gentrification and displacement.

De Blasio has defended his approach by insisting that families up and down the income ladder are feeling the housing crunch, and deserve help. He’s also argued that low-income families have public-housing and Section 8 rent vouchers to rely on that the middle class cannot access. All that is true. But while it’s difficult for middle-class households to find affordable apartments in the city, it’s becoming impossible for poor people to do so. The need at the lower end is manifestly more than public housing or Section 8 can handle—that’s why both have six-figure waiting lists—and the consequences are arguably more severe.

“Rents are hard for everyone, but for the communities we serve, it is becoming even more difficult,” said Anna Burnham, an organizer for Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association in the South Bronx. “Those are the people who end up in homeless shelters.”