Times Union: NYC housing focus needs to help homeless, too, advocates say

Albany Times Union

NYC housing focus needs to help homeless, too, advocates say

Jennifer Peltz | April 7, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) — The homeless should have a bigger place in New York City’s ambitious affordable housing push, advocates said Tuesday, arguing that two issues often viewed separately need to be tackled in tandem.

Housing costs have hit a breaking point for a growing number of New Yorkers while homelessness has reached levels not seen in decades. The city and state have made some strides, but advocates and some politicians want government to set aside more apartments for homeless people, boost rent subsidies and convert some apartments being used as homeless shelters into permanent housing.

“The best way to deal with homelessness is to provide someone with a home,” Public Advocate Letitia James said.

In response, the city and state administrations said they’ve made deep commitments to housing and fighting homelessness. Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to create or preserve 200,000 affordable homes over the next decade, and his administration has launched new rent subsidies for homeless families.

“The administration is taking aggressive steps to confront this crisis,” spokeswoman Ishanee Parikh said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said officials will review the advocates’ recommendations, while noting that the newly enacted state budget includes $900 million for housing and additional homelessness programs over the next several years.

More than 1 million New York City households now spend more than 30 percent of their income — a widely accepted affordability threshold — on rent and utilities, a number that rose about 10 percent from 2007 to 2012, according to New York University’s Furman Center, a real estate think tank. Around 600,000 households pay more than half their income.

Meanwhile, the number of people in homeless shelters per night topped 50,000 in 2012 for the first time since the 1980s. This past Wednesday, the most recent daily count available, 57,089 people sought shelter.

While homelessness has many causes, housing affordability has become “the core issue here,” said Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless, among the groups behind Tuesday’s recommendations.

Reginald Brown said he lost his Brooklyn apartment in 2011 because he couldn’t afford his rent: 70 percent of his roughly $1,200-a-month disability payment, under the terms of a housing assistance program at the time. Even with food stamps and some other benefits, the remaining roughly $12 a day wasn’t enough.

“It’s not that I don’t know how to manage money,” he said. But “you have to have money to manage.”

Messages left Tuesday with his former landlord and a law firm that has represented the landlord weren’t immediately returned.

Brown said he spent about three months in a shelter before getting into supportive housing, or housing coupled with social services. On Tuesday, he was going apartment-hunting for his own place, thanks to a 2014 change in state law that will limit his rent to 30 percent of his disability income.

Among the advocates’ recommendations were:

— Setting aside for the homeless 10 percent of the affordable housing in de Blasio’s 10-year plan and at least 2,500 of the New York City Housing Authority’s over 175,000 existing apartments. The authority says its goal is to rent 1,250 apartments to homeless families this year. De Blasio’s plan includes some new supportive housing.

— Turning homeless shelter “cluster sites” — apartments in buildings that also house private tenants — into permanent housing for homeless people. De Blasio’s administration has de-emphasized cluster sites but hasn’t abandoned them.

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