Fighting Bogus Band-Aid Solutions, Demanding Real Housing

Homeless people travel to Albany to confront the people behind bad subsidies
Homeless people traveled to Albany to confront the people behind bad subsidies

In 2004, Mayor Bloomberg made the decision to stop prioritizing homeless people for NYCHA public housing and federal Section 8 vouchers, replacing them with deeply flawed and problematic time-limited rental subsidies. Since the day he announced these programs, we started fighting back.

In 2007, the Administration bowed to pressure and abandoned the most problematic of these subsidies, “Housing Stability Plus” – only to replace it with another bad program that keeps homeless people in substandard, overpriced apartments. The “Advantage” programs are administered jointly by the city’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), leading to bureaucratic ineptitude that constantly subjects subsidy recipients to the risk of eviction. DHS refused to acknowledge the plan’s failures, and the Mayor continued to get good press for his homeless policies, so our members decided to prove them wrong.

Working with graduate students in urban planning, they developed a comprehensive survey to document the problems people have faced as a result of these subsidies. Then they took to the streets and surveyed more than 400 homeless and formerly homeless people, coming up with some truly staggering evidence – for example, 70% of people who received a housing subsidy had been to housing court because of problems with that subsidy, and 41% had been in rent arrears due to the city’s failure to pay its portion of the rent.! In 2009, we released the results of these surveys in the groundbreaking report:

“Time’s Up: Homeless New Yorkers Demand Alternatives to Bloomberg’s Failed Five Year Plan.”

The research and action of our members helped highlight and fix some of the most egregious problems with the programs, and moved DHS to request that the State of New York expand those eligible for HSP to include homeless shelter residents not currently on welfare but still eligible as low income, including persons receiving SSI, unemployment or in low wage jobs who can’t afford market rent. We also exposed substandard housing being offered to shelter residents through press conferences and direct actions where homeless families in substandard apartments told the real story.

In 2009 we made the decision to fold our Rental Subsidies Campaign into the Housing Campaign, after our members decided it was time to stop fighting to fix broken programs and dedicate our resources to creating new programs that really worked.