As shelter numbers have broken record after record, Mayor Bill de Blasio has been chided by rival politicians and jeered by tabloid editorial boards for his handling of the city’s homeless crisis. Quietly, however, the de Blasio administration placed seven times as many families in stable housing during its first two-and-a-half years as the Bloomberg administration did during its final four.
That’s according to a policy brief by the Coalition for the Homeless released on Thursday. While generally favorable to the mayor, the study contains little good news for the city. “[E]ven though more people are exiting the family shelter system to stable housing than at any time since 2004, a significantly greater number are falling victim to the severe dearth of affordable housing, rising unemployment, and domestic violence – and have been left with nowhere to turn but homeless shelters,” it reads.
De Blasio’s LINC housing voucher programs and his decision to re-open public housing and Section 8 priority lists to shelter residents is credited with increasing the number of people from shelters to stable housing–and staying there, leading to a decrease of 15 percent over the past three years in the number of formerly homeless families returning to the shelter system.
But over the same period, the number of newly homeless families has increased by 42 percent. In an understatement, the Coalition characterizes that jump as “cause for great concern.”
The leading culprit is the usual suspect: a lack of affordable housing. While domestic violence remains that top cause cited by new shelter entrants (30 percent of the 5,600 families who entered the system in the first 11 months of fiscal year 2016 cited domestic violence as their reason for seeking help), eviction and overcrowding comprised 42 percent of cases.
The report notes, however, that while the number of families citing overcrowding has grown, the share blaming eviction has decreased–a change the Coalition credits to the de Blasio administration’s funding lawyers to defend some tenants in housing court.
Economic weakness is also part of the story. While New York City’s job market has been fairly robust, the report found “a sudden reduction in the number of employed New Yorkers of 129,000 between March 2016 and August of 2016, and a related impact on unemployment: There were 35,198 more people receiving unemployment benefits in October 2016 than in June 2016.” That leap is likely reflected in the shelter numbers.
So is the de Blasio administration’s tendency to approve a larger share of shelter requests than his predecessor. In fiscal year 2011, the Bloomberg administration admitted 36 percent of family applicants, the report says. De Blasio’s team still turns moost families down, but approves far more: “Now close to half (48 percent) of all homeless applicant families are determined eligible.”
A sudden tightening of eligibility rules in November could reduce those rates, however. And that’s not the only note of discord with de Blasio in the report. It argues that the mayor has not gone far enough: While his administration has reconnected the shelters to NYCHA and Section 8, and said that the mayor’s affordable housing plan would include units for the formerly homeless, the number of apartments and vouchers set aside is far lower than advocates want. Among the report’s recommendations is increasing those numbers.
In a statement sent to City Limits, Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks, who oversees homeless services, said: “This report shows our comprehensive reforms are in fact making headway with more New Yorkers being placed in stable housing than at any time since 2004. While we know we have more work to do, we also know that the lack of affordable housing, the gap between income and rent, and domestic violence are the primary drivers for families entering shelter in the city. We are continuing to make wholesale changes from expanding our homelessness prevention programs and increasing rental assistance to providing new supportive housing to help ensure newly-housed New Yorkers stay housed after they transition out of shelter.”
City Limits coverage of housing policy is supported by the New York Community Trust and the Charles H. Revson Foundation.