Victory! Agreement Reached to End Misguided Shelter “Rent” Rules

In a major victory for homeless New Yorkers, New York State Legislators reached an agreement with the Mayor and Governor to eliminate rules forcing homeless families to pay “rent” for shelter, and instead to create a new savings plan.

Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Mary Brosnahan and Legal Aid Society Attorney-in-Chief Steve Banks joined Mayor Bloomberg, New York State Assemblymember Keith Wright, New York State Senator Daniel Squadron, and City officials at City Hall on Friday to announce the agreement.

Under the new deal — which was covered by the New York Times, the Daily NewsWNYC radioNY1 News, and the New York Observer‘s Politicker blog — State law will be changed to eliminate the counterproductive requirement forcing homeless families to pay for the cost of emergency shelter and replace it with a new savings plan, which working homeless families can use to move to permanent housing. As Mary said in the Mayor’s official press release:

“Today’s agreement is a tremendous victory for the thousands of New Yorkers who are working every day to get out of shelter and back on their feet…. This is about helping shelter residents who have jobs, who work hard and who want to move out of shelter and into permanent housing build up savings to do just that. Thanks to the leadership of the Mayor, Governor, Senator Squadron and Assemblyman Wright this agreement creates a common sense solution that will help families move out of shelter once and for all.”

The agreement followed more than a year of vigorous opposition to the misguided shelter “rent” rules by Coalition for the Homeless, the Legal Aid Society, the Working Families Party, State and City elected officials, service providers, concerned New Yorkers, and homeless families and individuals.

Leading the charge were Assemblymember Wright and State Senator Squadron, who introduced legislation last year to block the City from implementing the “rent” requirement, and who engaged in months of tough negotiations with City and State officials.

At City Hall, Assemblymember Wright spoke eloquently about a homeless security guard he met last year when the City forced her to pay around $700/month for emergency shelter for herself and her children. Senator Squadron and he said the following in the press release:

“The goal is to help homeless families move out of homelessness, and the savings plan will do just that,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron. “It’s a rare agreement that everyone can get behind….”

“As the Chairman of the Social Services Committee in the New York State Assembly, I am proud to have reached a three way agreement on this intricate issue,” said Assemblyman Keith Wright. “Being from Harlem, I know that the problem of homelessness in New York City is one that needs to be addressed with compassion rather than contradiction and this legislation is a step in the right direction. Now people who rely on temporary housing will not be forced to pay rent and extend their reliance upon the safety net, but put away meaningful savings bringing them closer to financial independence.”

When the “shelter rent” requirement was first enforced in May 2009, there was huge public outcry against the Dickensian rules, and — as the New York Times reported at the time — serious hardship for many working-poor families:

Vanessa Dacosta, who earns $8.40 an hour as a cashier at Sbarro, received a notice under her door several weeks ago informing her that she had to give $336 of her approximately $800 per month in wages to the Clinton Family Inn, a shelter in Hell’s Kitchen where she has lived since March.

“It’s not right,” said Ms. Dacosta, a single mother of a 2-year-old who said she spends nearly $100 a week on child care. “I pay my baby sitter, I buy diapers, and I’m trying to save money so I can get out of here. I don’t want to be in the shelter forever.”

Ultimately the State and City were forced to suspend the rules after three weeks due to numerous bureaucratic errors, but City officials made clear their intention to bring them back.

When the Bloomberg administration announced plans to re-introduce the punitive “rent” rules back in April, the Coalition worked with the WFP and others on a campaign demanding an end to the rules — and more than 6,000 people signed the petition urging State Legislators to change the law. Ultimately, the public outcry against the City’s plan and the persistent work of Assemblymember Wright and Senator Squadron brought the City and State to the negotiating table, finally resulting in the new agreement.

The Coalition wishes to thank Assemblymember Wright and Senator Squadron for their incredible work and dedication, and the Mayor, Governor, and City and State officials who labored to reach the agreement. And we want to thank the Legal Aid Society, the WFP, service providers, community groups, and our supporters for helping win this major victory for homeless New Yorkers!

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