Betty Smith had been living in the Brooklyn Women’s Shelter for close to a year when her caseworker told her about a new housing development that would not only give her an affordable and permanent place to live, but also help her find a job.
In February, she moved into New Life Homes, an unassuming six-story brick building on Dewitt Avenue in Canarsie, and three months later, she landed a job as a receptionist. For the first time in more than a year, she is working and paying rent, achievements for which she credits the résumé-writing and interviewing classes offered by her building’s manager, Services for the Underserved.
New Life Homes is the last of six housing developments to be built by a team of city agencies and nonprofits that provide homeless New Yorkers who do not fit into a “special needs” category, like mental illness, with an apartment and on-site job training and placement services.
Until now, “All the supportive housing had been for people with chronic mental health or health issues,” says David Gillcrist of the Corporation for Supportive Housing, which funded the projects along with the city’s departments of Homeless Services and Housing Preservation and Development. “There was nothing for people who have transitory problems because of substance abuse or for those who have not had solid work experience.”
For this reason, former Homeless Services Commissioner Joan Malin spearheaded the project, called the Supportive Housing Employment Model Program, in 1995, putting her agency’s $21 million in unspent capital funds toward what has become a $49 million development of 304 apartments in six buildings in Brooklyn and the Bronx.
At New Life Homes, the pressure is now on Services for the Underserved to help tenants get the jobs they were trained for. Like the other developments–run by East New York Urban Youth Corps, the Fifth Avenue Committee, the Jericho Project, Community Action for Human Services and VIP Community Services–SUS has reserved most of its apartments (11 of 54) for graduates of job training or substance abuse treatment programs at the city’s transitional shelters. (The rest are for homeless people with mental illness.) About 35 percent of the tenants had jobs when they moved to New Life, and since then another three, including Farmer, have found work. At the two-year-old Jericho Project building in the Bronx, about half of the tenants are now working. The residents pay 30 percent of their income to rent, either through Section 8 vouchers or other public assistance programs.
As to whether more developments like these are in the city’s future, Homeless Services spokesperson Jim Anderson says his agency plans to commit to about 200 additional beds for supportive housing programs with job assistance but, given the current fiscal crisis, he says he can’t say how, or when.
Not her real name.