The State of Inequality: Chipping Away at Housing Problems


The State of Inequality: Chipping Away at Housing Problems

2018-11-27T15:22:32+00:00November 27th, 2018|Advocacy, Local Updates|

New York City residents are convinced the city confronts an intractable housing crisis. The deterioration of New York City Housing Authority properties imperils its estimated 600,000 residents. The homeless shelter population is now at 61,000, and a January count found 3,675 unsheltered. About half the tenant population is severely rent-burdened, paying 50% of their income for housing.

The impact on the poor is clear.

“If someone had a housing hardship [in the past month], all their other hardships skyrocketed,” said Nancy Rankin, vice president for policy, research and advocacy at the Community Service Society of New York. “If they experience housing hardship, they cut back on everything else. There’s the risk of eviction or homelessness.”

At the same time, no city is doing more to help. Regulation greatly limits rent increases for 1 million apartments, and outreach like Ponce’s helps the city keep tabs on conditions in them. Meanwhile, the city is working to reduce evictions by streamlining rental assistance and funding lawyers for tenants.

For years, different state and city programs have handled rental assistance for various households depending on their history and qualifications, such as whether they had spent time in shelters or had disabilities. In July the city announced that rental assistance would run through a single program, which launched late last month. The idea is to make it less confusing for both tenants and the landlords who accept city money in lieu of rent and to make it easier and quicker to receive the kind of help that South Bronx resident Mariana Munoz, 33, got this summer.

Munoz, a home health aide from Honduras with three teenage children, fell behind on her rent after her husband left in January. She doubled her hours to full time at her $13-an-hour job, but she still couldn’t come up with $1,196 in rent. In early spring she went to HomeBase, a city-run homelessness-prevention service. It took more than three months, but she qualified for assistance in July, and the CityFEPS program now pays more than half of her monthly rent—about what her husband once did. Munoz, who had lost her home once before, was able to stay put with the two kids who still live with her.

“I would have ended up in the shelter like I was 13 years ago,” she said through a translator. “I went through it, and my children went through it. I didn’t want us to go through it again.”

Using vouchers can be difficult for apartment shoppers because they carry a stigma of homelessness. After many reports of prospective tenants being rejected for apartments, the city says it is working with landlords to improve acceptance.

The city also spent $238 million last year in emergency rental assistance—loans or single payments to prevent eviction for those who have temporary circumstances that might lead to homelessness. They range from a few hundred dollars to more than $30,000 and can be awarded even to applicants with less than sympathetic stories, such as the woman who fell behind on rent because she went to the Dominican Republic for liposuction. Though considered one-shots, some tenants get them two or three times in a year, and about 80% are behind on repaying their loans.

Compare New York to Seattle, a progressive city that has struggled to build affordable units as rents have soared 65% since 2010 amid an Amazon-fueled economic boom. Washington state has banned rent control, and for single people, the city limits rent help to those making no more than $31,000 and to six months in duration.

In New York the safety net continues to grow. In January the city will begin paying for half-priced MetroCards for residents below the federal poverty line. Mayor Bill de Blasio is extending pre-K to 3-year-olds, providing free schooling for an expected 62,000 children in addition to the approximately 70,000 in his program for 4-year-olds.

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