Photo by: Picture the Homeless

My name is Arvernetta Henry and I am presently in the New York City shelter system. We have so many families that are housed in the shelter system and living on the street. We also have too many people on fixed income who are being evicted from their homes because the rent is so outrageously high. I have recently met an 87-year-old senior citizen who was evicted from her home. Although she had Section 8, she had her rent increased, and she was unable to pay her portion. The landlord proceeded to evict her and she came into the shelter system last week.

If we had a permanent rental subsidy program, a family with a low annual income should have to pay no more than 20-30 percent of their income on rent. They could be living in a decent space and provide meals for their loved ones. With a rental subsidy, families would stay together and united. Children wouldn’t have to be uprooted from their schools and it would give the family a helping hand, preserving communities in the process.

While new shelters are opening up all over the city – some costing over $3,500 a month per person – many properties remain vacant. We could renovate and rehabilitate some of the city’s vacant properties and use rental subsidies to pay people’s rents instead of warehousing them in shelters. The Department of Homeless Services’ budget was close to $1 billion last year. If we took even a small percentage of this budget and put it towards housing people in permanent housing, we could reduce the shelter population and house thousands of men, women, and children.

For myself, being on a fixed income of $1,200 per month, every apartment I’m looking at costs too much. If I pay rent of $900 or more, I couldn’t afford to pay utilities or buy food. If I had a rental subsidy that would allow me to pay less, I could live in an apartment and I wouldn’t have to be in the shelter system or move out of the city I have been in all my life.

I have a lot of medical expenses but I am ineligible for either Medicaid or Medicare. Those payments come out of my own pocket. I have medical bills coming out of my ear, so I’m stuck in the shelter because I have to make these payments. I also have student loans to pay off, and I could use some assistance.

I applaud the City Council in encouraging both the Governor and the State Assembly to amend the language in the current budget to allow State reimbursements to go towards rental subsidies for homeless New Yorkers. The City Council should continue to meet with the people directly facing these struggles. Both the city and state should involve homeless people and those at risk of homelessness in these conversations so we can create an effective, flexible, and permanent rental subsidy program in New York City.

This was adapted from testimony Henry delivered to the City Council.