Emma Whitford | September 28, 2015
Mayor de Blasio today announced that he will nearly double his spending on legal assistance for tenants facing eviction, with an emphasis on New Yorkers living in the city’s 15 most rapidly-gentrifying neighborhoods—Crown Heights, Bushwick, and Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn; Jamaica in Queens; and Tremont in the Bronx, among others.
The city’s anti-eviction legal team, which currently receives $13.5 million annually and has the capacity to deal with 10,000 cases per year, will receive an additional $12.3 million to accommodate 19,000 cases annually by Fiscal Year 2017.
The mayor’s office also recently announced the expansion of free legal services for New Yorkers living in neighborhoods facing rezoning, from $20.5 million to $36 million. Together, by FY 2017, the two programs will receive over $60 million annually and serve an estimated 32,700 households per year.
“The cost of living has skyrocketed in this city,” Mayor de Blasio told reporters this afternoon. “We see how, unfortunately, so many of our fellow New Yorkers are close to the edge economically. Our answer is, in part, to stop homelessness before it starts.”
The NYTimes reports that, as of August 5th, 56,542 people are living in the city’s homeless shelters —a decrease since last winter’s record 60,000. The number of street-homeless New Yorkers, notoriously difficult to document accurately, was estimated at 3,000 this February.
The Wall Street Journal reports that 32% of families that are currently in the shelter system have been evicted from their homes. Both the shelter system and the city’s notorious network of three-quarter housing—state-funded apartments instated under Bloomberg—are characterized by high turnover and dismal living conditions.
“Housing court… is difficult to navigate for low income people who by in large, don’t have legal representation,” said Urban Homesteading Assistance Board spokeswoman Kerri White.
“However, giving money to legal service providers is treating the symptom rather than the cause of the problem. There are not enough attorneys to represent all the tenants facing these conditions, there are not enough resources to build enough new affordable units to house these tenants.”
The mayor has announced several new measures to reduce and prevent homelessness in recent weeks. In August, he announced NYC Safe, a plan geared towards identifying, monitoring and treating New Yorkers, homeless and otherwise, with mental health issues. A few weeks ago, he announced $10 million in emergency funding for homeless adults. Earlier this month he made a highly-publicized visit to a homeless encampment in the Bronx, and subsequently announced his plan to remove all homeless encampments city wide.
“This is definitely needed,” said Vocal New York spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn, of today’s announcement. “We know that the best form of homelessness prevention is actually helping people remain in their apartments, and we know that there is an unbelievable amount of harassment by landlords.”
Flynn attributes the current homeless problem to previous mayors, citing Bloomberg’s elimination of federal funds for homeless families, and investment in shelters over permanent housing. During the Bloomberg administration, the number of homeless New Yorkers ballooned from 25,000 to 53,000.
“It’s a little bit too late, and that’s not de Blasio’s fault,” she added. “De Blasio is battling what was set in motion 10, 15 years ago. But any real plan to end homelessness must include dedicated housing to the homeless. We’re still looking for Mayor de Blasio to make a bold announcement that he’s going to take his affordable housing plan and dedicate 10% of his new construction, or 15,000 units, for the homeless.”
The mayor’s affordable housing plan, announced this May, calls for the creation of 80,000 new units of affordable housing and the preservation of 120,000 more.
During a Q+A session this afternoon, the mayor defended his housing plan, telling reporters, “Many of those people [in shelters] will ultimately be able to take advantage of our larger affordable housing effort.”
De Blasio celebrated the first trickle of said housing in July—8,483 units, the bulk of which aren’t technically “affordable” for the 36.3% of New Yorkers who make less than $35,000 a year.