Halt of Rent Subsidies Will Push Formerly Homeless Into Street, Critics Say

By Jill Colvin on February 3, 2012 5:25pm 

A homeless man walks down the street on June 20, 2011, in New York City.
A homeless man walks down the street on June 20, 2011, in New York City.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

MANHATTAN — Advocates are warning that thousands of families could be pushed out onto the streets after the Department of Homeless Services announced it will not be sending out rent-subsidy checks to formerly homeless families this month.

A legal challenge brought on behalf of tenants by the Legal Aid Society had forced the city to continue funding the program after state and federal cuts last year, but the appellate division of the New York State Supreme Court lifted an order Thursday, permitting the city to stop payments. 

The DHS-adminstered Advantage program provides working families who are homeless with rental subsidies so they can move out of shelters and into their own homes. There were 15,000 people participating in the program and 3,000 qualified to join as of last March.

Following Thursday's ruling, the Department of Homeless Services announced on its website that the city has immediately ceased issuing checks.

“The City will NOT be paying the February rent subsidy,” read the notice, advising tenants to attend an information session offering eviction-prevention counseling and free legal help instead.

Advocates warned the move will create an “immediate” crisis for those who rely on the checks.

Mary Brosnahan, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, said that at least 8,000 homeless families were “at immediate risk of being evicted from their homes in the middle of winter,” and that many, “if not most,” will be forced to head to homeless shelters.

“Michael Bloomberg is now the first mayor in modern history with no program whatsoever to move people out of shelters and into affordable homes,” she charged. “His legacy is the sad result of this failed approach, and New York’s all-time [homeless] record is sure to grow worse as the city rushes to cut off Advantage families from the help they were promised.”

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said the administration is at risk of driving thousands of families into homeless shelters, “which are already close to the breaking point.”

A homeless shelter at 237 W. 107th St.
A homeless shelter at 237 W. 107th St.
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DNAinfo/Serena Solomon

He said in a statement that the Bloomberg administration was "throwing away everything we have learned about preventing homelessness and helping families get back on their feet in the process."

Program recipient Karen Ruth, 44, who is raising a 13-year-old son in Bedford-Stuyvesant, said she doesn't know what she'll do without the help, which she began receiving from the city after they spent two months in homeless shelters in 2009.

“I’m very aggravated right now. Frustrated and emotional," said Ruth, who said she is legally blind and receives $1,000 a month through the Advantage program, which helps her afford her $1,305 a month rent.

“Without that help, I have no way to live," she said, adding that she hasn't yet broken the news to her son. "I would be homeless yet again, without the help of that voucher." 

In a statement Friday, DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond said the Advantage program had been a success, but that without state and federal help, the cost was too much for the city to shoulder on its own.

"It is too expensive without shared responsibility," he said, adding that the Department "will continue to work aggressively to prevent and end homelessness in the absence of State and federal assistance."

DHS did not respond to mulitple requests for comment regarding how the agnecy planned to deal with those no longer receiving the checks.

Mayor Bloomberg previously warned that discontinuing the Advantage program would mean the city would need 70 new shelters to provide housing for those no longer receiving rental subsidies, costing upwards of $80 million.

The sides will be back in court on Feb. 9 for oral arguments, a spokeswoman for the city's Law Department said.

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