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Most New Yorkers Are Roughly 1 Paycheck Away From Homelessness: Study

By Amy Zimmer | November 25, 2016 1:00pm | Updated on November 27, 2016 1:08pm
 Homeless encampment under Metro North tracks that run along Park Avenue.
Homeless encampment under Metro North tracks that run along Park Avenue.
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Derrick Taitt

More than half of all New Yorkers are teetering on the brink of homelessness — without enough cash in the bank to cover them in the event of a disaster or lost job, a troubling new study has found.

Nearly 60 percent of all New Yorkers don’t have enough emergency savings to cover at least three months' worth of household expenses like food, housing and rent, according to a recent report from the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development.

Without such emergency funds, these families are at risk of eviction, foreclosure and damaged credit.

South Bronx neighborhoods, including Mott Haven, Hunts Point, Morrisania and Highbridge had among the highest percentage of residents without adequate savings. At least 75 percent of residents in these areas barely have any cushion, according to ANHD. In fact, more that 50 percent of residents in all Bronx neighborhoods lacked sufficient emergency savings.

In Brooklyn, Brownsville and Bushwick residents fared the worst, with at least 68 percent of residents lacking enough emergency funds. Bedford-Stuyvesant, East New York and southern Crown Heights/Prospect Heights followed close behind.

At least 66 percent of residents in Central Harlem, East Harlem and Washington Heights/Inwood lacked three months of savings to cover household expenses. These areas were followed by Morningside/Hamilton Heights and Chinatown/Lower East Side.

In Queens, the areas with the highest percentage of such households included, Elmhurst/Corona (64 percent), Rockaway (60 percent), Jackson Heights and Sunnyside/Woodside (both 59 percent).

Staten Island’s Stapleton/St. George area had the highest percentage of such households in the borough, with 52 percent of families lacking sufficient emergency funds, according to ANHD.

The de Blasio administration has expanded its budget for homelessness prevention services, such as legal services and emergency rental assistance to keep families in their homes.

In Fiscal Year 2015, the city spent $180.7 million in emergency rent help to nearly 53,000 households, city officials said in September. That amounted to an average cost of $3,400 per family — which is much less than the estimated $41,000 annual cost for a family in shelter.

Rental assistance is crucial in preventing homelessness in a city where rents have been rising much faster than incomes, advocates say.

Homelessness is currently at an all-time high, with more than 60,500 adults and children spending the night in city shelters, according to the most recent data from the Department of Homeless Services.

City officials noted that homelessness began to spike after in 2011 when the city’s Advantage rental assistance program ended amid a budget fight between the Bloomberg and Cuomo administrations. Though considered a flawed program by many advocates for its onerous work requirements, many feared its demise would accelerate homelessness in the city.

After the program ended, the number of homeless individuals jumped from more than 37,500 in March 2011 to nearly 55,000 in August 2014.

The de Blasio administration implemented a new rental assistance, move-out and prevention program through the Human Resources Administration in the fall of 2014, and estimates that without their new rental assistance and other preventive measures, there would now be 67,000 people in shelters.

Many tenants, however, don’t even know they can get emergency rental assistance, according to Edward Josephson, director of litigation and housing at Legal Services NYC.

Without rental assistance, Josephson said, low-income tenants — especially those who work temporary jobs and fall behind on rent, but tend to catch up when they’re re-hired — find themselves in housing court for nonpayment of rent.

Increasingly, landlords are claiming “chronic rent delinquency” — saying they want to evict a tenant because they’re tired of going to court — after just one late payment, when previously building owners would use this strategy only when a tenant accrued about 15 such cases.

“It makes sense to pay rent arrears than to put someone in a shelter for $3,000 a month,” Josephson said.

“The city is expanding the program and is generous in helping with back rent. It’s easier to get than it was before. But you still have to go to HRA offices during the work day to get it,” he added, noting that for people in precarious work situations, it can be a burden to choose between applying for the assistance and missing work at the risk of losing their job.

“Ideally, they would have after-hours appointments,” he said of the HRA aid.

There’s also a statewide push to increase the state's outdated rental assistance subsidies. Queens Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi has been pushing for a plan known as Home Stability Support to keep people in their homes — which could cost $450 million in state and federal funding, according to the Daily News.

In New York City, the plan would reportedly cost $11,224 per year for a household of three, compared to $38,460 for a family living in the shelter system.