The biggest obstacle to solving homelessness in NYC is…

Posted: April 18, 2010 in Bureauacracy, Employment, Family, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Money, Morality, Politics, Poverty, Stupidity

A little less than a year ago, I wrote a post mentioning that New York City was going to begin charging those homeless who were working "rent." The policy was meant to bring NYC into compliance with a 1997 New York state law.

Amid public outcry and criticism and a potential lawsuit, (not to mention a few major snafus regarding how the city was determining how much "rent" to charge) the city sidelined the policy – until last week, when the Bloomberg administration announced it would re-instate the "rent" requirement.  

According to an article in the New York Daily News,

"Shelter residents would have to pay as much as 44% of their income in their first year in the program."

NYC Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs stated that the "… first bills will likely be sent in September, raising $2 million to $3 million a year."

I find the idea of charging people rent to stay in NYC’s homeless shelter system to be utterly ridiculous – after all, there is a vast difference between shelter and housing. So the very notion that NYC may charge some folks "… as much as 44% of their income" for little more than "sleeping accommodations" strikes me as being nothing less than obscene.

Even the Housing Choice Voucher Program – or as it is more commonly known, "Section 8" – administered through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), only requires folks to pay no more than 30 percent of their income. For that amount, folks would get their own apartments.

Of course, this is not the first instance of NYC’s sleight-of-hand shenanigans regarding how they’ve dealt with homelessness. In fact, the city has a track record of using less than humane – or even moral – methods of dealing with their homeless.

For example –

Up until about a week ago, NYC was reducing the numbers of "street homeless" by placing them in boarding houses. The Bloomberg administration announced that they would stop sending folks to these "homes" – but only because they had come under increased pressure from elected officials and homeless advocates over the last two years.

In many instances, those who were being placed in these "homes" found themselves living in conditions which were over-crowded, and inherently unsafe and hazardous for human habitation.

According to an article in the New York Times,

"For years, homeless people were sent by the city to illegal boarding houses, places with crowded conditions, rows of bunk beds and vermin. For many of the buildings’ landlords, it was an easy way to turn a run-down house into a fairly lucrative operation — tenants were charged hundreds of dollars each month for little more than a mattress."

As if to add injury to insult, in mid-March, New York Governor David Paterson made public his proposed state budget.

An article from the NY Page One Examiner, pointed out that funding cutbacks included, "… $104 million [that] will be slashed from the adult shelters, permanent housing and prevention services."

Call me an idealist if you want, but it doesn’t make any sense to cut funding to services which help aid those who are in the extremist forms of poverty – especially when you consider that New York’s unemployment rate is at 10 percent.

I’m willing to bet that none of the fat cats along New York City’s famed Wall Street will feel the pinch of Governor Paterson’s cutbacks. They’ll still be happily smiling all the way to the bank.

And lest we forget: it was those very fat cats who – because of their risky, unscrupulous financial dealings; their greed; and their lust for power – helped precipitate one of this nation’s most chaotic and devastating economic periods since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Homelessness is not in any way, shape, or form, an easy issue to remedy. Nor am I implying that it is.

However, NYC has shown it’s unwilling to do the right thing in lieu of taking shortcuts. Pretty much, all they’ve done is place a bandage on a wound that requires suturing.

After all is said and done, it may well prove to be that the biggest obstacle to ending homelessness in New York is its politicians and bureaucrats.

  1. Rev. Cynthia says:

    44% of one’s income going toward housing is, indeed, obscene! Not unlike interest rates of 20% or more for credit cards, which is clearly designed to keep people from ever paying down the principle, so the interest keeps getting paid, this 44% of a homeless person’s income is assuring that they will never be able to save funds for their own place & will stay stuck in the trap. Whatever happened to usury laws? The “welfare machine” (like the “war machine”) needs victims in order to stay in business & if enough poor people aren’t available, apparently these systems are not beyond helping to create them. It sure makes me wonder how the “powers that be” sleep at night. Are they not familiar with the concept of “what you do in this life comes back to you”? Thanks for bringing this issue to our attention, Michael.

  2. jonolan says:

    The city has no money. In fact, it is in a deficit condition which is something that, unlike the federal government, is not allowed. There’s just no money to pay for these people’s living situations.

    • michael says:


      Part of the problem with the way NYC has dealt with its homeless population is the continued use of shelters, rather than engaging in programs that help folks become housed.

      Based on data contained in the “Mayor’s Management Report FY 2009,” NYC is spending approximately $3,200 per month to keep families in the shelter system. It would seem to me that a far better (and more fiscally responsible) use of those funds would be to help subsidize housing costs and get them “out of the system.”

      It’s been shown that it costs more to “shelter” people than it does to “house” them. Even HUD (which just recently released a report regarding the cost of shelter vs. housing) has alluded to that reality.

  3. Mark Horvath says:

    great post

    as always you’re spot on

  4. Bri says:

    Blegh. The one thing that makes me question moving to NY is Governor Paterson. They’re not too happy with him over there, according to my NY friends…

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