Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

The mayor doing homeless outreach in the winter of 2016.

“By the way, we’ve gotten over 60,000 people out of shelter and into permanent housing in the last four years.”
– Mayor Bill de Blasio at his August 23rd debate with challenger Sal Albanese

A snapshot number is, well, a snapshot. It’s one indicator of what exists at a moment of time, but in and of itself gives no backstory. Take the daily census of the city’s homeless shelters, which on Tuesday stood at 59,863. We know it’s a big number. We know 22,873 of those people are children, that the number of single adults in the system climbed to record highs in August (the last month for which statistics are available) while the count of adult couples and families with kids is slightly lower than the record highs reached last fall. But we don’t know whether the number is changing because of changes in the numbers coming into the system or in the numbers going out.

Mayor de Blasio has been criticized from the right and left for the rise in the shelter census over his time in office. Most of those critiques focus on his management of the shelters; they imply that a better managed system would have fewer people in it. As a counterpoint, the mayor often points—as he did at last month’s debate—to the number of people who have left the shelters to permanent housing under his watch.

The mayor’s statement of fact came about 15 minutes into the debate, part of an answer that’s worth watching or reading in full:

We’ve put forward a plan to address homelessness. I’ve had over 30 town hall meetings in neighborhoods around this city and I’ve leveled with people about the homelessness crisis. It’s a crisis that’s been with this city for 35 years it’s been growing, sadly, decade after decade. But here’s the thing: The last thing to do is to not allow people to be in their own neighborhood. The plan I’ve put forward says if a family becomes—God forbid—homeless, they should be helped by the city in the neighborhood they come from, in the borough they come from, not sent miles and miles away from their child’s school, from their house of worship, from their family. And I’ll tell you what: New Yorkers are good and compassionate people. I have gone to town-hall meetings, even in neighborhoods that had a lot of concerns, and I’ve said, “Look everyone, remember that famous phrase: ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’?” Anybody could see that economic reality fall out from underneath them. There are a lot of people who never thought they could become homeless. Hard-working people … who become homeless. I’m not going to ask them to go far, far away from their neighborhood. I think we should help them to get housing in their home neighborhood, on the way to permanent housing. By the way, we’ve gotten over 60,000 people out of shelter and into permanent housing in the last four years.

Have 60,000 people done so, as the mayor claims?

The answer is yes, according to the Mayor’s Management Report.

During the three full fiscal years of de Blasio’s tenure (he came in halfway through fiscal year 2014 and has presided over years ’15, ’16 and ’17), city shelters have discharged 25,000 single adults, 2,106 adult families and 25,000 families with children to permanent housing. Bot all of those received city rental assistance, but about 27,000 of those households—including 15,000 families with children—did receive subsidies, whether old standards like Section 8 or one of the new voucher programs de Blasio launched, like LINC. Since adult families consist of two people and families with children consist of two or more people, that gets you to better than 60,000 people leaving shelters to permanent, subsidized housing under the mayor.

Movements to Permanent Housing from the Shelter System

FY15 FY16 FY17 TOTAL 15-17
Single adults 8,762 8,521 8,132 25,415
Subsidized 3,085 3,885 3,770 10,740
Unsubsidized 5,677 4,636 4,362 14,675
Adult families 908 628 570 2,106
Subsidized 224 310 290 824
Unsubsidized 413 318 280 1,011
Families with children 8,220 8,294 8,558 25,072
Subsidized 4,527 5,365 5,424 15,316
Unsubsidized 3,693 2,929 3,134 9,756

Readily available statistics don’t make clear how de Blasio’s record on permanent housing compares with that of his predecessor. Statistics on adult families and families with children weren’t reported in the management reports covering the last years of the Bloomberg era, during which homelessness began the surge that continued into de Blasio’s time. The one comparable stat—the number of single adults moving into permanent housing—was as high as 9,000 in fiscal 2009. That’s higher than in the past three de Blasio-only years, but Bloomberg also posted numbers lower than de Blasio’s in other periods. In fiscal 2014, the year Bloomberg and de Blasio shared, more than 10,000 single adults moved to permanent housing. (It is also unclear, because of changes in the MMR, how many of those single-adult placements under Bloomberg were subsidized.)

Taken together, the numbers don’t mean the critique of de Blasio’s homeless policy is invalid. Some critics say the current mayor’s development policies are to blame for exacerbating the housing pressure that drive folks into shelter. Others fault his handling of shelter safety, the continuing use of hotels and cluster sites, the plan for 90 new shelters (which, of course, is aimed at ending the use of hotels and cluster sites),an insufficient amount of new housing planned for the formerly homeless, and more. But the numbers do indicate the mayor is being truthful when he says that, under his watch, a small city’s worth of people have found permanent homes through the shelter system.