No Advantage for the Homeless

8,000 at-risk households facing eviction in New York City

Last June New York State pulled the plug on funding for the Advantage program, which as of last year subsidized housing for 8,000 households in New York City. Instead of compensating for this loss, the City followed suit; leaving an estimated 15,000 at-risk individuals (including people with disabilities, children and elderly) with nowhere to turn once their leases end on April 1, 2012.

The Advantage program, created by the Bloomberg administration in 2007, aimed to help families and individuals transition out of the shelter system into permanent housing. This was done by requiring recipients to work a minimum of 20 hours a week and subsidizing a percentage of their rent that was dependent on their income; in hopes that they would become economically stable within the duration of the subsidy.

The program gave many homeless individuals and families, a second chance; to prove themselves and become economically independent in a place they could call their own.  With the termination of Advantage, it is likely that the majority of these residents will have no choice but to return to the shelter system—a step backwards that would require the City to build 70 new shelters.. This in turn will cost taxpayers more than it would to sustain the Advantage program. To house an average family of four on an Advantage subsidy costs tax payers $800 per month, while it would cost upwards of $3000 a month to house that same family in the shelter system.

Starting in April the City will begin to see an increase in homelessness, all while shelters are already at maximum capacity According to the Coalition for the Homeless, there are already 17,000 children in the City shelter system.

The program itself was cut, in part, due to a strong belief that there were a significant number of people taking “advantage” of Advantage; however the criteria and process was stringent enough that there was little opportunity to cheat the system or get a “free ride”. All in all the paperwork took at least a month to process, but in many cases it took even longer and many people were found ineligible. To view the full criteria and find out more about Advantage click here.

However, it was not only the once homeless recipients that were affected by the Advantage cut. Many social workers and landlords promoted the Advantage program and, committed to assist people within the shelter system to gain housing. This action was a failure to the public trust and demoralizing for case workers and landlords.

There is some hope in a post-Advantage City. City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn proposed a new rental subsidies program in her State of the City speech last month for homeless families in the shelter system. Along with this, she suggested setting up priority access to public housing and Section 8 vouchers.

What can you do?

The situation can be remedied with public support. Christy Parque, Executive Director of Homeless Services United recommends that people write letters to Mayor Bloomberg and City Council urging them to honor their commitment to homeless New Yorkers and create solutions that work for communities.

Also, ask them to restore the City’s priority for public housing through the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and Section 8 to maintain public trust in government programs that transform lives.

To contact the Mayor and your City Council representative click here


Contributed by Elise Stukenberg of the Human Services Council


About Human Services Council

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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