New York’s homeless shelter numbers—a consistent source of alarm over the last five years—have shown some signs of stabilizing. The average number of families with children in the system has been lower in each of the past eight months than over the comparable period the previous year and the average number of adult families has leveled off so far in 2018.
But the number of single adults continues to climb steadily. And there are still an average of 2,000 more families with kids in the shelters now than were there during the first months of Mayor de Blasio’s tenure in 2014.
“It’s OK to say it’s stabilizing,” Giselle Routhier, the policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless told Ben Max of Gotham Gazette and this reporter Monday on the Max & Murphy podcast, “but it’s stabilizing at record levels.”
To truly turn the tide against homelessness—to borrow a phrase from the homeless strategy re-set the administration put out in early 2017—New York is going to have to embrace bolder solutions, Routhier says, including wider use of newly created affordable housing, public-housing apartments and Section 8 rental vouchers than de Blasio has contemplated to this point.
Routhier gives the de Blasio team credit for establishing new rental voucher programs to replace those cut by the city and state in 2011, the loss of which started the huge spike in shelter numbers that characterized the end of Mike Bloomberg’s tenure and the first years of de Blasio’s. But she says it remains challenging to find apartments where landlords take the vouchers and where they are sufficient to meet the rents charged, even in far-outer-borough neighborhoods.
On the use of NYCHA apartments and Section 8, she acknowledges de Blasio “has gone from nothing to something,” re-establishing a link between city shelters and federal housing resources that the Bloomberg team had severed for ideological reasons.
Not that de Blasio’s housing policy doesn’t have its own questionable ideology. Like many housing advocates, Routhier contests the administration’s insistence on designating substantial numbers of apartments for families with six-figure incomes. The mayor has argued consistently that the housing crunch affects families up and down the income ladder, and that the city has an obligation, both moral and economic, to offer help to a broad section of the city. But Routhier and other advocates argue that the market is better equipped to serve such families than scant city resources.
While political heat over homelessness often burns de Blasio, Gov. Cuomo and the state budget are also under fire. By forcing the city to eat more costs for supporting homeless shelters, Albany is hampering the city’s ability to solve the problem.
Hear our conversation below: