City Increasingly Paying Back Rent to Keep Tenants from Homelessness

In the effort to fight a steady, decades-long rise in homelessness, the de Blasio administration has significantly increased the city’s rental assistance programs over the past four years. A variety of programs including vouchers for those seeking to reenter stable housing from shelter, the effort also entails paying back rent for those at risk of losing their apartments.

Known as “rent arrears” payments, the de Blasio administration has dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars to keep New Yorkers in their homes and out of the shelter system. While this and other efforts, like significant increases in city-funded legal assistance to tenants facing eviction in housing court, have not reversed the upward trend in the shelter census, combined efforts have kept thousands of families in their homes and led to a break in the trajectory of the homelessness population — the shelter census has hovered around 60,000 for all of 2017.

Today’s Read: City Increasingly Paying Back Rent to Keep Tenants from Homelessness

With the number of men, women, and children sleeping in shelters each night hovering at near record levels, the City must tackle the homelessness crisis in every way possible. Now more than ever, prevention is a critical tool in the fight against surging homelessness. It saves families and individuals from the trauma of losing their homes and conserves tax dollars at the same time. The de Blasio administration has made commendable investments in this area, including the creation of an array of rent subsidy programs. This summer, the City made history by enacting legislation that will guarantee access to legal counsel for all low-income tenants in housing court as it is phased-in over five years. Further, as Ben Max reported in Gotham Gazette, the City has increased its investments in rent arrears payments and expedited applications to help people who have fallen behind in rent, providing 58,167 households with more than $214 million toward back rent in 2016 alone. The average grant of $3,688 per household is a fraction of the $61,262 it costs to pay for emergency shelter for a family each year. The Coalition also embraces this strategy of providing one-time rent arrears grants in our own Eviction Prevention Program.

The City’s robust investments in homelessness prevention have helped stabilize the precipitous rise in homelessness. In order to reduce the shelter census, however, the City must make a similarly aggressive commitment to expanding deeply subsidized affordable housing options to help those who have already become homeless quickly move out of shelters and into permanent homes of their own. Specifically, the City must target more Federal housing resources to people with the greatest housing needs by doubling the number of NYCHA units allocated to homeless households, and continue to help at least 4,500 homeless households annually move out of shelters with City-initiated rent supplements. To truly address the affordable housing crisis that is fueling record homelessness, the City must also build 10,000 new units of housing for homeless individuals and families over the next five years, and continue this level of homeless housing production throughout the life of the Mayor’s Housing New York plan.

Coalition for the Homeless Policy Director Giselle Routhier spoke to Ben Max about the progress the City has made in homelessness prevention efforts – and the urgent need for the City to similarly bring the Mayor’s affordable housing plan to scale to help those who are literally homeless:

Discussing the increase in rent arrears payments on Wednesday, Giselle Routhier, policy director at Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group, said that “the scale of the numbers highlights the scale of the need that’s out there. The number of cases and the investment indicate the widespread need across the city, something we should all be concerned about. But it’s good that the city is making these efforts to keep people housed.”

“This highlights one aspect of what the de Blasio administration is doing right – prevention efforts,” Routhier said. “But when we’re talking about reducing record homelessness in New York City, we have to look at how they are helping people in shelter move into housing.”

Routhier added a word of criticism and previewed a City Council hearing schedule for this coming Monday. “Today he released Housing New York 2.0, in which he’s increasing the target number of units,” she said, “a vast increase in the total housing plan, but there’s no mention of an increase in the number of units for homeless households. For us, that’s a concern given the number of people in homeless shelters.”

Of de Blasio’s original 200,000-unit, ten-year affordable housing plan (now upped to 300,000 units over 12 years) there were 10,000 units dedicated to homeless households.

East Coast Offers Homeless Insights as West Coast Struggles

It’s before dawn when two outreach workers find a homeless man known as Juice near a train station in Harlem. A nurse will be visiting to discuss his heart problems, they tell him.

A short time later, in Marcus Garvey Park, the sun has just begun to rise when the caseworkers approach a man zipped inside a sleeping bag. They have encountered him before; they know he’s teasing when he gives a phony name.

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