New York City residents who receive welfare benefits have been waiting 14 years for more money to pay the rent. Last week, the Pataki administration, under court order, finally gave it to them.
But the hike isn't exactly going to impres city landlords. For a family of three, the rent allowance , currently $286 a month, will increase to $342 a month. The increases range from 9 percent for a family of two to 43 percent (up to $484) for a family of five.
What's more, the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance is also moving to eliminate a rent supplement program that had stemmed from the same court case, Jiggetts v. Dowling.
In 1991, the Court of Appeals mandated the supplement as a temporary solution to the inadequate shelter allowance. The so-called Jiggetts supplement, available to families on welfare who have been threatened with eviction, currently helps pay the rent for about 16,000 families in the five boroughs, out of 205,477 total who receive public assistance. Jiggetts provides up to $650 a month for a family of three. The state will leave it up to local governments to decide whether or not to make a rent supplement available in the future.
But despite Albany officials' latest attempts to put to rest a lawsuit first filed by the Legal Aid Society in 1987, Legal Aid attorneys say the proposal may just land OTDA back in court again soon. Five years ago, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Karla Moskowitz ruled that the state agency must hike its housing allowance rates to a level that has a “reasonable relation to the cost of housing.”
“This of course is not adequate,” said Legal Aid's Susan Bahn of the new rent allowances. Her agency is currently negotiating with state attorneys.
State officials, of course, disagree. “Acording to our housing experts, the shelter allowance, especially when combined with recipients' other resources, should be sufficient,” said OTDA Executive Deputy Commissioner Robert Doar, noting that his agency based its new figures on the Census Bureau' 1999 Housing and Vacancy Survey. He added that continuing to keep the rent supplements relatively low is also good policy, since it helps push welfare recipients to work.
The proposal would means a slight hit for the state and city budgets: According to rough estimates from the city's Independent Budget office, the proposed hike and Jiggetts cut combined would cost the state about $22 million–$66 million for the rate increase minus $42 million in Jiggetts savings. The city would be set back about $18 milion ($32 million less $14 million in Jiggetts money).
Advocates for the poor hope the court will find the latest change unacceptable. “It would be very bad policy to cut the amount of funding presently supporting people in their own apartments as a way o resolve this litigation,” said Shelly Nortz of the Coalition for the Homeless.
Beginning Wednesday, when OTDA officially publishes the regulations, members of the public will have 45 days to comment on the plan. The proposed regulations are available at the Greater Upstate Law Project's website.