In 2004, Mayor Bloomberg laid out a five-year plan to reduce the city’s shelter population from 36,600 people to less than 13,000. Instead, that population skyrocketed to 50,000 people. The mayoral candidates propose a variety of reforms to address the crisis.
Democratic candidate and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is not alone in calling for the creation of a new rental subsidy voucher program to help shelter residents transfer to permanent housing. De Blasio and others have been critical of the Mayor’s Work Advantage program for giving homeless New Yorkers only two years of rent support. (Bloomberg stopped taking new participants into the program in 2011 after Governor Cuomo said he would not help the city pay for it.)
De Blasio also plans to reinstate the availability of some Section 8 and NYCHA apartments to the homeless. While previous administrations set aside Section 8 vouchers and openings in NYCHA housing for homeless residents, the Bloomberg Administration ended this policy, with Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs saying in 2005 that the policy encouraged families to enter the shelter system in order to have priority access to subsidized housing.
De Blasio also wants to expand homeless prevention services, like helping tenants get legal services to fight wrongful evictions, an initiative he has spearheaded as Public Advocate, and facilitating tenants’ access to rent increase exemption programs. He says he will reform strict shelter eligibility rules that deny beds to people he thinks should be eligible, and believes that the city needs supportive services to “resolve underlying factors like mental illness and drug addiction” in the homeless population.
Democratic candidate and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn also calls for the creation of a new rental subsidy voucher program—one better than the Advantage program. She vows to set aside a portion of Section 8 and NYCHA apartments for the homeless. Quinn has been critical of overly harsh regulations that prevent people from obtaining shelter. (In February, Quinn was part of a City Council effort to sue the city for a policy that required people seeking shelter to prove they had no other residency options. A state court struck down the policy in February.) She has also highlighted the importance of supportive services for the homeless, including for homeless LGBTQ youth.
Democrat and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson says he’ll create a rental subsidy voucher program, set aside Section 8 and NYCHA apartments for the homeless, end the “warehousing” of NYCHA apartments that could be used as housing and increase supportive services for the homeless. He also wants more legal services and emergency rent assistance to prevent homelessness, and wants to end the practice of renting private apartments (often at more than $3,000 a month) to house homeless people.
Democrat and City Comptroller John Liu specifies that his $27 million voucher subsidy program will provide subsidies to 10,000 homeless families that can be renewed for up to five years, and says it will save the city $237.5 million by keeping families out of city shelters. Low-income families who have lived in a shelter for at least 180 days would be eligible to apply. He also promises to set aside Section 8 and NYCHA apartments for the homeless and has stressed the value of homelessness prevention services. He hopes to connect families to rent increase exemption programs and is proposing a tax credit for families with elderly dependents. Liu has also been outspoken on the issue of homeless shelter siting and says he will make sure communities have a say in how the city locates shelters.
Adolfo Carrión Jr., a former Bronx borough president and Obama administration official running as an Independent, writes that he supports government programs that “reward individuals for taking personal responsibility and keeping them accountable,” and that people who complete such programs should receive rent subsidies that decrease as they gain employment.
Democrat and former City Council member Sal Albanese stresses the importance of helping the poor access quality jobs, education, housing, education, and health care so they do not fall into the “vicious cycle” of homeless. He says he will increase access to mental-health services, reform drug laws to give people more access to substance-abuse services, and create more living wage jobs. He also says he will advocate on a national level to increase Section 8 funding and that he would consider setting aside Section 8 vouchers and NYCHA housing admissions for the homeless but “doing so would require support from the vibrant communities already living in public housing facilities.”
Republican candidate George MacDonald also calls for increasing job opportunities for the homeless. MacDonald is the founder of The Doe Fund, a multimillion dollar nonprofit that provides job training and job access to the homeless, formerly incarcerated and drug addicts. He says he will strengthen the local economy and create “residential schools,” where the homeless and formerly incarcerated can live while undergoing schooling and job training.
Democrat Rev. Erick Salgado says he will create a better rental subsidy program, with rental subsidies of $900 to $1,000 per family. He says he will set aside a portion of NYCHA apartments and other housing support program slots for the homeless, and reform regulations that he says prevent people from seeking shelter.
City Limits could not find a homelessness agenda for Democrat and former City Councilman Anthony Weiner, Republican and former MTA chief Joe Lhota, or businessman John Catsimatidis, and none of the three responded to requests for information.
Homeless advocates say that a deficit of affordable housing has contributed to the homelessness surge, and while supporters laud Bloomberg’s successful initiative to build 165,000 new units of affordable housing by the end of fiscal year 2014, critics say that about two-thirds of the new units are not actually affordable to the majority of residents in areas where the units are built. All the candidates have proposed plans – of varying scales – to increase the city’s affordable housing stock.