Poverty Pimping

Posted: May 11, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Employment, Family, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Politics

On Saturday I posted about New York City’s newly implemented policy requiring working homeless families who are staying in local shelters to pay "rent."

Later in the day I came across a New York Daily News article in which NYC Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, defended the policy. In essence, he made it seem as though he had no choice in the matter; that his hands were tied – as it were.  

Mayor Bloomberg was quoted as saying:

"Everybody else is doing it, and we’re told we have to do it, so we’re going to do it."

His statement makes me curious.

First was his claim that "Everybody else is doing it."

It would be interesting to know exactly who Mayor Bloomberg was referring to with regards to "everybody."

Is Mayor Bloomberg asserting that every shelter in the state of New York is also charging working homeless families rent? Or does it apply to just shelters in the City of New York?

Also – who exactly is it that told Mayor Bloomberg they had to charge rent? Was it the State itself? And, if so – why implement the policy at this specific time?

The NY state rule which the Bloomberg administration is using to justify charging rent is more than a decade old. Why then did the City of New York wait so long before coming into compliance with state law?

None of it adds up.

In the New York Times article which I cited on Saturday, NYC officials defended the policy saying,

"… homeless people with income should be expected to pay for a portion of their shelter costs, a model that echoes the federal Section 8 housing voucher program."

A "portion of their shelter costs" – yes.

However, one single mother was being asked to pay $1,099 in rent of her $1,700 monthly income – which is nearly 65% of what she earns. That most certainly is not an "echo" of the Section 8, Low Income Housing Program. In fact, what she is being required to pay in "rent" is twice the amount of what she would pay under Section 8 – which would be only about 30% of her income.

There is another question which comes to mind regarding Bloomberg administration officials equating the homeless paying rent to shelters with paying Section 8 housing rent.

If city officials truly believe it to be similar, then why not just cut to the chase? Why not truly help those working homeless families and actually place them in Section 8 housing?

That would that reduce the numbers of homeless in the city. In addition, it would free up shelter beds for other homeless individuals.

A week or so ago I was reading an article about one of central California’s cities and the increasing numbers of homeless there.

Quite a number of readers had left comments. Most of them were calling on city officials to "stop talking about it" and actually do something to reduce homelessness within their community. It seems that local residents were sick and tired of the city’s "temporary Band-Aid" solutions.

In their comment, one reader used the phrase "Poverty Pimping" in describing how city leaders seemed to be more concerned with hiding the homeless rather than helping them.

Although I personally don’t like the phrase, I wonder if perhaps there might be a bit of "poverty pimping" going on in New York City.

As I wrote on Saturday, I do believe that everyone who is able to should "pitch in" and do their fair share.

However, with regards to the homeless, the ultimate goal should be to assist them become as productive and self-sustaining as possible – and as quickly as possible.

By charging some of those folks more than half of their monthly income, they are reducing their potential to get off the streets in a reasonable amount of time. If anything, it keeps them trapped within "the system."

And that – at least to me – qualifies as "poverty pimping."

  1. At the Respite, we charge our housing clients 30% of their monthly income. Shelter clients pay nothing. I agree with your statement here; when we charge homeless people so much for shelter that we hinder their ability to break the cycle of homelessness (starting to feel like I use that phrase way too much), we’re ultimately hurting our communities.

    • michael says:

      Center For Respite Care,

      The amount you ask your housing clients to pay in rent is actually in line with HUD’s Section 8 program and is based on the Federal Governments’ assessment of a “Fair Market Rate” for housing – which is 30% percent of a persons income. This is why it seemed to me disingenuous for NYC officials to equate their “pay to stay” policy as similar to HUD’s program.

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