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De Blasio And Cuomo Move To Deal With New York Homeless Problem

On August 12th of this year, it was announced that state and city representatives reached a deal seen as a major step towards dealing with the growing problem of homeless families in all five boroughs of New York City. The aim of the agreement which centers on two 2 programs is to take families out of homeless shelters and into rent subsidized apartments. According to Mireya Navarro of the New York Times, the city is ready to pay out $80 million dollars over the next four years in rent for families where at least one member has a full time job. The second program will provide $59 million dollars over four years in subsides for families who have been chronically homeless over a period of two years. Connected to these programs will be a pilot service where an additional $9 million dollars will be paid for women with children who have suffered from domestic violence. While the move to install these programs comes as welcomed news, the road to reach this deal between the offices of Mayor Bill De Blasio and Governor was a rather rocky one to say the least.

On March 25th of this year, Kate Taylor of the New York Times reported on the severe divide between the offices of De Blasio and Cuomo over the details in getting these programs implemented. At a time when the two electeds were already battling over issues such as charter schools and raising the minimum wage the fighting continued over the adoption of aid for homeless families despite the fact that both Cuomo and De Blasio built much of their political reputations around this issue. For the Mayor, dealing with the issue of homelessness was a key part of his Mayoral campaign. His plan to place homeless families in city and state subsidized units is based on the Bloomberg era “Advantage” program which served the same purpose. The program was later dissolved by the administration of the time because the state withdrew funds which paid for the service in 2011. The result of ending the program was an explosion in the city’s homeless crisis which has seen as many as 50,000 individuals with nowhere to go. Another report has put the number of those sleeping in shelters closer to 54,700 - 23,000 of which were children. As I’ve written in the past these are most severe numbers of homeless individuals since the great depression of the late 1930’s. The reimplementation of the funds to pay for these programs was actually first announced back in February by De Blasio who claimed that he was working with the Governor’s office to hash out the details of the programs. According to one administration official, the city pays out $3,200 dollars a year per family for housing in a shelter.
Doubts started to arise in getting the deal done this year when City homeless Service Commissioner Gilbert Taylor met with council members stating De Blasio’s office was going up to Albany to lobby for funds for these programs. The Governor’s office later issued a statement in which the claim was made that the current budget process of the time was too far along and that the city would have to wait till next year for such funding. Cuomo was quoted the following Tuesday stating that, “I’m very involved and concerned about those issues. It’s late in the day to put something in the actual budget because the budget train has basically left the station, so to start a new proposal — it’s too late.”

Apparently Cuomo’s statement caught the mayor off guard forcing Bill De Blasio to insist that his administration would do what they could to deal with the issue in an expedient fashion. According to the article, the biggest area of contention was over language in legislation which prohibited city officials from using federal money for subsidized housing. This was the same restriction of funds which ended Bloomberg’s program in 2011. De Blasio’s office saw the removal this language in the budget as a minor change which would cost Albany nothing extra in terms of aid to its Southern neighbor. But Cuomo’s office didn’t support use the possibility of redirecting funds for other social service programs for the “Advantage” program at the time. Despite City Hall’s push for the rule changes to be completed by April 1st, Cuomo publicly insisted that his focus was on the pre-K legislation which was dominating the financial news at the time. For more on the dispute, check out the link,

According to a report by Claire Moses of The Real Deal, the reactivation of the subsidized program is expected to serve at least 801 families who have been homeless for over a year. Further the De Blasio administration is expected to reverse a Bloomberg era policy which prohibited funds to be used for homeless families to receive priority housing in public residential buildings. The number of apartments for these families still has yet to be announced. The Mayor’s office is also seeking an additional $10.2 million dollars for the Home Base program which was first set up in 2004 to protect lower income families from becoming homeless. Mayor De Blasio was hoping to have received the increase funding by July 1st but it remains unclear where the process is at, at present. The administration announced that the plan to decrease New York City’s homeless population will take time and will be a process and not an “event”. It should be noted at this time that the De Blasio plan does pale in comparison to the Advantage program, when it was still active, in both funding and reach. The program under now former mayor Bloomberg cost $104 million dollars and was meant to reach about 15,000 families.

So while affordable rent regulated housing continues to disappear from the five boroughs of New York city due to the likes of Airbnb, greedy landlords and a real estate sector which acts with absolute impunity, it now seems that both city and state officials will prioritize their time with programs which will in part clean up the damage caused by NYC’s housing climate.
Of course time will tell if or when the administration will expend as much energy on preserving and expanding the already existing rent regulated units along with the building of new affordable units as promised on the campaign trail less than a year ago. De Blasio does seem to be trying to deal with the long standing aftermath of exploding rent rates and the questionable deregulation of at least 300,000 once rent protected buildings but it would seem time to curb the problem itself instead of treating the symptoms. While De Blasio still has enough time to deal with the housing crisis the question becomes does he have the political will or even the support of Albany at this point in his fight to create what he has promised to be a city where everyone can live.
Until next time…

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