NYC Stops Charging Homeless Families Rent… Temporarily

Posted: May 22, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Employment, Family, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Money, Politics

A little over a week ago, I wrote a post regarding the City of New York requiring working homeless families to pay "up to 50 percent" of their income as a condition for staying at local area shelters.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Mayor Michael Bloomberg – who had previously stated that the city was obligated to charge those families rent – put a temporary stop to the practice.  

While I don’t claim to know Mayor Bloomberg’s actual motives in temporarily stopping the charging of rent, I’m guessing that the media coverage had a bit to do with it.

I’m sure that Assemblyman Keith L. T. Wright’s preparing to submit a bill which would outright ban shelters from charging rent also caused Mayor Bloomberg to re-think the policy.

In addition, there was a letter to the Mayor from NYC Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. criticizing the policy and calling it, "… short-sighted, ill-considered and disconnected from the struggles of less fortunate New Yorkers."

And, then there is the possibility that the city would have faced legal battles as well.

Martha Gonzalez, a homeless working mother staying "… in a rundown shelter in Fort Greene, Brooklyn" who was told that her "rent" would be $1099 per month. She earns only $1700 monthly. She plans on contesting the amount of her "rent" in court.

All of that aside however, there is one word in the most recent article which I have a problem with: the word "temporary."

This means that Mayor Bloomberg might be setting aside the policy until he’s "out of the spotlight" – only to bring it back when everyone else has their eyes turned elsewhere.

That wouldn’t surprise me since the first New York Times article did say,

"The Bloomberg administration has quietly begun charging rent to homeless families who live in publicly run shelters but have income from jobs."

Straightaway I noted the phrase "… has quietly begun charging rent to homeless families."

To me that implied that Mayor Bloomberg may have hoped the policy could be slipped into place without anyone noticing. Or perhaps, since it was going to affect the homelessness, he believed no one would care.

When I wrote my post a week or so ago, I said,

"… I certainly don’t see anything wrong with expecting a homeless person to "carry their own weight" if they are able to. However, in my opinion Mayor Bloomberg’s latest policy will serve only make it more difficult for folks to get off the street. It will certainly lengthen their dependency on the city’s shelter system. This will probably end up costing the city more in the long run."

I also mentioned that I saw no problem with NYC shelters charging working homeless rent providing that the majority of that "rent" went into a type of savings account that could be applied toward – and used for – getting those folks back into permanent housing.

In a press release a few days later, NYC Comptroller Thompson suggested the same thing:

"In the meantime, Thompson recommended that, instead of requiring shelter residents to pay up to half their income in rent to the City, the Administration should work with each family to create a realistic budget that covers necessary expenses. Any money the City charges for rent should instead be deposited into savings accounts that families could use exclusively for permanent housing."

It’s nice to know that some politicians and bureaucrats are at least trying to do what will help their area’s homeless find a way off the streets.

In the meanwhile, NYC homeless families who are working have a reprieve from having to "pay to stay."

Hopefully, Mayor Bloomberg will take to heart Mr. Thompson’s suggestion enough to find a feasible method of making it happen.

Doing so would certainly be a proactive approach.

And, that would benefit not only the homeless but the entire community as well.

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