Today’s Read: Thousands of Working New Yorkers Are Living in Homeless Shelters

The primary driver of record homelessness is the worsening citywide housing affordability crisis. In every borough, skyrocketing rents and stagnant incomes have left more and more New Yorkers on the brink of homelessness: As of 2014, one-third of all NYC renters were paying more than half of their incomes on housing – many just one unforeseen expense away from falling behind on their rent and facing eviction. Having a job no longer sufficiently guarantees housing stability, and it is increasingly common for New Yorkers to leave their workplace at night for a heartbreaking trek back to a shelter. In fact, one-third of families with children in shelters have a working family member, but they remain unable to find an affordable apartment in the city.

Increasing wages alone cannot fully address the affordability gap. The National Low Income Housing Coalition publishes an annual “Out of Reach” report and has calculated that in order to afford fair market rent and utilities for a standard two-bedroom apartment without spending more than 30 percent of income on housing, a New Yorker working 40 hours per week would need to make $30.21 per hour – double the $15 per hour minimum wage that will be phased-in over the next few years. Clearly, the issue must be tackled from the housing supply side as well.

Mayor de Blasio has attempted to mitigate the dearth of affordable housing through his Housing New York plan to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing, but many of these units are not affordable to extremely low-income New Yorkers such as those languishing in shelters. The magnitude of the housing crisis necessitates a bolder commitment to affordable housing development for those at the lowest end of the income spectrum. As we explained in our annual State of the Homeless report, the City cannot significantly reduce homelessness unless it fully utilizes its existing housing resources and creates a new capital development program to finance construction of at least 10,000 units of affordable housing specifically for homeless households over the next five years. These investments are critical if New York is to succeed in helping homeless individuals and families – including those who are working – move out of shelters and into homes of their own.

Mara Gay wrote about the increasing prevalence of employed homeless New Yorkers in The Wall Street Journal:

“I’m working from 8 to 8, 12 hours a day, but I can’t afford the rent,” says Ms. [Donna] Morgan, who works two jobs and earns about $2,100 a month. “Simple as that.”

Ms. Morgan is one of thousands of people in New York City who work but are homeless. Many are employed in low-paying jobs in the service industry that are crucial to keeping the New York economy humming. About 13.5% of jobs in the city pay minimum wage, according to an estimate from the Comptroller’s office, or $11 an hour for workers at businesses of at least 11 employees.

The combination of soaring real-estate prices and stagnant family incomes have squeezed New York’s working poor. Rents surged nearly 20% in real dollars from 2000 to 2014, while household income decreased by 6.3%. The number of people living in New York City shelters skyrocketed to more than 60,000 late last year, up from 31,009 in 2002. The rise in the working homeless is a big reason why.

“When I first began representing homeless people years ago it was rare,” said Steven Banks, who oversees the city’s homeless programs as commissioner of its Human Resources Administration. “Now, working families constitute a significant part of the shelter system.”

Of the roughly 40,000 families with children living in shelter in New York City, 34% have earned income. Thousands more single adults and adult families in the system also have paying jobs.