Coalition for the Homeless has released its eighth â€œState of the Homelessâ€ report, an annual assessment of homelessness in New York City. This yearâ€™s report documents record family homelessness in New York City. It also assesses Mayor Bloomberg’s five-year homeless plan at its mid-point, and outlines reforms needed to achieve the goals of that plan.
Falling Behind: A Mid-Point Look at the Bloomberg Homeless Plan
March 7, 2007 — Coalition for the Homeless has released its eighth â€œState of the Homelessâ€ report, an annual assessment of homelessness in New York City. The report finds that increasing housing costs, low wages and flaws in the cityâ€™s Housing Stability Plus program are leading more families than ever before into New York Cityâ€™s shelter system.
â€œFrom the beginning we have supported Mayor Bloombergâ€™s goal of ending chronic homelessness as well as his emphasis on permanent housing over temporary shelter for homeless families. But these numbers make it clear that the Mayorâ€™s five year plan needs a mid-course correction,â€ said Mary Brosnahan, Executive Director of Coalition for the Homeless.
On June 23, 2004 Mayor Bloomberg announced United for Solutions Beyond Shelter â€“ a plan to â€œend chronic homelessness in New York City in five yearsâ€. The initiative began in August, 2004 â€“ 2 years and six months ago. At that time the City released and posted on their website detailed implementation plans with timelines and targets. Todayâ€™s report from Coalition for the Homeless analyzes data from the Cityâ€™s Department of Homeless Services and finds that at the midpoint, the City is falling significantly behind on its own benchmarks for the planâ€™s implementation.
â€œInstead of ending chronic homelessness, we are seeing record numbers of families seeking shelter. The Mayor and the Department of Homeless Services have repeatedly dismissed any criticism of their plan â€“ but hopefully they will take a look at these numbers and agree that what theyâ€™ve been trying so far just isnâ€™t working,â€ said Brosnahan.
The report found that the greatest culprit for rising family homelessness were flaws in the cityâ€™s Housing Stability Plus program (HSP). Launched in December, 2004 to replace federal Section 8 vouchers for homeless families, HSP is supposed to provide declining rent subsidies to families to move them out of shelters and into permanent housing. However todayâ€™s report finds that the number of homeless families moved to permanent housing fell by 11% last year to 5,950 â€“ the lowest number in four years and that HSP moved fewer families in its second year of operation than in its first (4,524 families in 2005 v. 4,033 families in 2006).
The report outlined an immediate action plan to reduce New York City homelessness with an emphasis on repairing the flaws in HSP. In particular the report called for an immediate suspension of the 20 percent annual reduction in the rent supplement for formerly homeless families, and an end to the exclusion of the working poor and disabled people from the program. Under the current rules families in the program are prohibited from leaving welfare for work.
â€œIt just doesnâ€™t make sense to ask formerly homeless families struggling to get on their feet to absorb a 20% rent hikeâ€, stated Brosnahan. â€œAnd it doesnâ€™t make any sense to end housing subsidies for those leaving welfare for work. We should be doing everything we can to encourage economic self-sufficiency.â€
â€œUnless these problems are fixed, we will never achieve a real end to chronic homelessness in New York Cityâ€ stated Brosnahan.
The report finds that in the past year the number of homeless New Yorkers in shelters increased by 11.1% (to 35,113), the number of homeless families in New York City shelters increased by 17.6% (to 9,190) and the number of homeless children increased by 18.1% (14,219). Most striking, the report finds that the average number of families in shelters hit an all-time record high last month â€“ with the Department of Homeless Services reporting a monthly average of 9,287 families in the cityâ€™s shelters in February. These numbers come less than a month after the Mayorâ€™s Management Report documented a 24% increase in the number of new families entering the shelter system.
Brad Lander, Director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, offered an overview of conditions in New York Cityâ€™s housing market that are leading increasing numbers of low-income families to seek shelter from the City.
â€œThis is unfortunately a pretty straightforward story. Housing costs continue to skyrocket while wages on the low-end canâ€™t even begin to catch up. This has been the case since the real estate boom began, but in the past year weâ€™ve really reached a point where thousands of families just canâ€™t tread water anymore,â€ said Lander.
Lander cited statistics from the Census Bureauâ€™s Housing & Vacancy Survey that found between 2002-2005 (the most recent data available), the number of apartments available at rents of less than $1,000 (in 2005 constant dollars) fell by 156,833 between 2002 and 2005, the number rented for $1,400 or more grew by 63,187 â€“ an increase of almost 25 percent.
â€œIn the past five years weâ€™ve seen the highest increase in median rent since 1993. While rent shot up 21%, median annual income only grew 6%. These numbers should be a call to action to both preserve affordable housing and fix programs like HSP that are supposed to help people stay out of shelter,â€ said Lander.