It's been six months since the New York City Housing Authority went back on a promise to help 2,600 low-income New Yorkers pay the rent. In that time 27 families that left the city's shelters for homes of their own have returned to the shelters, homeless again, according to Judith Goldiner of the Legal Aid Society. And thousands who thought they had a life line are still waiting for help.
Nilsa Melendez is one of them. The 44-year-old receptionist fled an abusive marriage and has been living in a shelter with her 14-year-old daughter since November 2008. In August 2009 she finally got a Section 8 rental assistance voucher. For three months Melendez tried to find a landlord who would honor it. Then NYCHA told her it was rescinding the assistance. It had run out of money and couldn't provide the help it promised.
On Monday morning Melendez and 35 others like her rallied on the steps of City Hall, demanding that Mayor Bloomberg take action to solve the ongoing crisis. New York City Congress members Jerrold Nadler, Yvette Clarke , and Nydia Velazquez joined the demonstration. Along with Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, they lambasted city government for toying with vulnerable New Yorkers and failing to fix the problem after six months.
“New York families in need should not be punished for NYCHA's over-extension of its Section 8 program. It is nothing short of dishonorable to offer people assistance and then say, never mind,” said Nadler. He said he and other members of Congress were pushing for funding for an additional 250,000 Section 8 vouchers next year. Meanwhile, he said, the city needs to take care of the people it shut out.
Velazquez agreed. “We are here to say NYCHA must act now to protect these 2,600 families,” she said.
The Department of Homeless Services established a $1 million fund to help the people with now-worthless vouchers. They can ask for help by going to a neighborhood outreach office run by Homebase, an organization that provides homeless services. But only 16 of the 2,600 families have gotten help from that fund, Velazquez said. DHS did not answer questions about how much of the fund has been spent or how many people helped.
Nadine Osborne, a 38-year-old resident of the Bronx neighborhood Williamsbrige, is afraid she will end up back in a shelter. She moved into an apartment in her neighborhood a year ago with help from the city's Advantage program, which helps get formerly homeless people on their feet. But her Advantage benefit ran out and without the assistance Section 8 would have provided, Osborne is unable to pay rent on the tiny apartment she shares with her three-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son.
“I don't know what's going to happen. I could end up back in the shelter. I need a stable environment, with my little one starting school in the fall,” she said as the toddler joined a chant on the steps of City Hall.