Caught in the Middle: What Went Wrong with Advantage

Cuts to human services rarely get the attention of the press, especially in the past few years with so many budget cuts at the city, state, and federal level. This year, however, a fair amount of press has been generated over one program in particular – the Advantage program – and the game of chicken being played over whether it will be funded at all.

The Advantage program is a rental subsidy that helps individuals and families transition out of emergency homeless shelters to housing by providing two years of rental subsidies. Participants in the program must work and contribute 30 percent of their monthly income to rent in the first year, 40 percent in the second year. The program in New York City currently serves 15,000 families, and is funded by the State at $35 million and the City at $69 million, and then leverages federal dollars for a total of $192 million.

The program is not without its detractors, who argue that alternatives, such as Section 8 housing or other federally subsidized permanent housing, would offer a better success rate to people coming out of the shelter system. The rate of people who return to shelters from federally subsidized housing is just four percent, while the rate of those returning to shelter from the Advantage program is between nine and 26 percent (depending on the source for the numbers). Advocates have been making the case in Albany and elsewhere that the Advantage program should be phased out for another program that offers real permanency. In a climate where every program is on the chopping block, a $10 billion deficit looms over us, and no one wants to back revenue options such as tax increases, it may not have been wise to speak out against the Advantage program without any guarantees that a new program would receive the funding to take its place. The message everyone heard was that Advantage didn’t work (and while it is flawed, its success rate is far from terrible), and no one presented a viable alternative that didn’t rely on uncertain external factors, such as federal funding. The conversations about the “failed” program and the iffy alternatives failed to recognize what would happen to real people if the Advantage program ended―which is what happened next.

Governor Cuomo, in his Executive Budget, eliminated all $35 million in funding for the Advantage program, and Mayor Bloomberg fired back by eliminating New York City’s entire $69 million contribution. As the State budget deadline loomed, the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) sent letters to all 15,000 families receiving Advantage subsidies informing them that the program would end on April 1, a mere three weeks from the date of the letter. By court order, the City will continue paying the subsidies through the month of April, but it is unclear what will happen after that. Now, as advocates, legislators, the Mayor, and the Governor squabble over the merits of the Advantage program, the amount of funding, and the need for an avenue to permanent housing, 15,000 families in New York City sit and wait, and wonder what will happen to them.

For people looking to cut the deficit, eliminating this program might seem like a good idea. The real result, though, is that the city is gearing up to build 70 new homeless shelters to deal with the massive number (up to 45,000) of individuals and families who will be evicted and will require emergency shelter. Additionally, numerous landlords will not be receiving rent they were counting on and will have to deal with sudden vacancies when they were previously guaranteed up to two years of rent.

While it is important to advocate for better programs – and permanent housing is certainly a more secure option than two years of subsidies – it is also important to preserve funding for programs that are working. The final State budget includes $15 million for a program similar to Advantage, which is less than half the level of funding Advantage received from the State. It also remains unclear what Mayor Bloomberg will decide about the new State program; will he fund the program with City dollars, and if so, how much?

Arguments about dollars spent, shelters built, and success rates are all happening while real people, people trying to build their lives, worry about where they will live in the next few weeks. This fight over who will fund what and for how much means little to a mother and her small children who just received a letter saying they won’t be able to stay in their apartment anymore. In the end, these families do not care about success rates – they see the Advantage program as their way out of the emergency shelter system and into a safe place of their own that they can call home.

Contributed by Michelle Jackson
Of the Human Services Council of NYC

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The Human Services Council strengthens New York's nonprofit human services sector, ensuring all New Yorkers across diverse neighborhoods, cultures, and generations reach their full potential.
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6 Responses to Caught in the Middle: What Went Wrong with Advantage

  1. Pauline Edwards says:

    I agree with this article whole-heartedly. As a recipient of the Advantage program, me and my husband were taken aback when we received the letter. Our first thoughts were they have to be kidding, but..they were not. Now we have to beconcerned with how to manage paying $1100.00 rent. I work a minimum wage paying job and my husband is on disability and only receives $403.00 monthly. Our combined incomes is only $1,491.00. We still have to pay Con Edison,buyfood,wash clothes,buy metro cards,pay phone bills,buy toiletries,buy cleaning supplies and etc,etc. So, to all the politicians who think we not worth helping, please think again!
    We are trying! I care!

  2. Evelyn Bennett says:

    Who Cares? I do. People who are in need of a place to live should not be treated like a piece of thrown away paper left to blow away in the wind. Is this what happens to hard working people’s tax paying dollars? Were thier tax dollars blown away in the wind? I think not. Governor Cuomo, needs to give back the $35 million in funding that he had given for the Advantage program. And Mayor Bloomberg needs to give back the New York City’s $69 million that he had given to the Advantage program as well. How are the homeless suppose to survive if they have no where to live. I think that the very fabric of being human is to know that they can survive. But how can this be, if the chance to do better for themselves and a place to live is stripped from them by the people who had sworn to govern New York City, to those who are citizens of it and who need assistance via affordable housing.
    Who cares? I do.

  3. Pingback: Women in Poverty | Who Cares? I Do.

  4. Christina says:

    Im a domestic violence survivor I wasnt even supposed to be on this advantage program. Before I came into the system I had an online business selling ipods which made me thousands of dollars each week.. I was paying 1300 dollars for a 3 bed rm apartment. My apartment had it all.. including an abusive baby daddy that worked and couldnt even buy diapers for his children. I left due a dispute in ewhich I was grabbed and pushed against the wall in front of my children. My childrens father was able to manipulate the officers and I ended up being thrown out of my own home with my the 3year old autistic son, 18 month old son and pregnant 3 months

  5. Christina says:

    Im a domestic violence survivor I wasnt even supposed to be on this advantage program. Before I came into the system I had an online business selling ipods which made me thousands of dollars each week.. I was paying 1300 dollars for a 3 bed rm apartment. My apartment had it all.. including an abusive baby daddy that worked and couldnt even buy diapers for his children. I left due a dispute in which I was grabbed and pushed against th
    e wall in front of my children. My childrens father was able to manipulate the officers and I ended up being thrown out of my own home with my the 3year old autistic son, 18 month old son and pregnant 3 months. I was sent to a domestic violence shelter but was told to leave and go back to path due to having a high risk pregnancy. I did go back to dhs but was place in a regular shelter in which supposely I did not qualify for emergency housing. Instead I was given an advantage voucher in which to me made no sence. I would have rather had perminent housing.. Or sec8 which was supposed to be given to me but the day I sign my lease was the same day the program was terminated. So my bad news is how am I supposed to go back to dhs(path) with not only one autistic child but 2 autistic children yes the 18 month old now 3 years old child was diagnosed with mild to classic autism.. And just to make matter worst my daughter was born with respiratory problems.. Now doesnt bloomy have some type of program that helps the disabled? lol.. (sarcasticly)..
    What I was promised to me n my fam was never given and what was given has just been taken away!

    I think instead of making new shelters why not make more affordable housing buildings and get families into real permanent housing in which they could reall call home!

  6. Pingback: No Homes for the Homeless? | Human Services Council

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