The homeless magnet: Part 7, Too much immediatism

January 24, 2017 | Apartments, de Blasio, Development, Ecosystem, Homelessness, Housing, Incentives, Mobility, New York City, NIMBY, Politics, Poverty, Rental, Vouchers | No comments 54 views

 

[Continued from the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.]

 

By: David A. Smith

 

As we’ve seen in If effort and expostulation translated into action, new York City would have thousands upon thousands of permanent supportive housing apartments for its homeless, but the more one delves into New York City’s constituency and interest-group politics, the clearer it becomes that the stakeholders are engaged in multi-player isometric exercises: pushing hard and harder against each other, all straining, none moving.

 

I’m exercising my right to free speech

 

 

Sources used in this post

 

New York Times, July 28, 2009; Seaweed font

New York Daily News, March 4, 2011

New York Times, May 31, 2011; Emerald font

New York Times, February 8, 2012; Kelly green font

Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2013: Sapphire font

Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2013: Azure font

AHI blog: New York’s self-reinforcing homeless system, October 21-25, 2013

Gotham Gazette, April 4, 2014; Caramel font

New York Times, July 25, 2014; Crimson font

New York Post, November 1, 2015; Turquoise font

New York Times, October 25, 2016; Forest green font

New York Daily News, October 28, 2016; Indigo font

Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2016: Siena font

New York Daily News, December 1, 2016; Garnet font

WNYC, December 5, 2016: pink font (AHI rough transcript)

Coalition for the Homeless web site, accessed January 1, 2017, gray font

 

 

The resulting paralysis of housing production leaves those who have staked their reputation on political change forced to do the one thing they can do unilaterally: palliate symptoms.

 

 

6. The system palliates symptoms and ignores root causes

 

Prediction: The city will keep spending large sums simply to hold people just above homelessness.  The problem will get larger.

 

Ms. Quinn campaigning

 

Christine Quinn, a former City Council speaker and chief executive of WIN, a nonprofit that serves homeless women and their children, said the city needs to focus more on job-training programs.

 

Ms. Quinn ran for mayor to succeed Mr. Bloomberg and lost in the Democratic primary (which in that case was the real election) to Mr. de Blasio.

 

We need to stop being controlled by the media’s obsession on whether numbers have gone up or gone down … and move to focus on the question of whether people are returning to the shelters,” Ms. Quinn said. “Short-term fixes to long-term problems don’t work.”

 

All well and good, and an encouraging statement by Ms. Quinn, except that before running for mayor, she was a city councilor representing Chelsea, and in that role she objected to supportive housing in her district.

 

Or is it that dreaded, contrary ‘economy’? 


Seth Diamond, commissioner of the city’s Department of Homeless Services [Now COO at MetroPlus Health Plan – Ed.], pointed to the end of a state-funded program [Advantage, referenced in earlier parts – Ed.]  that subsidized rent for people leaving shelters, which ended in spring 2011; homeless families have gone up 35% since, according to shelter records.

 

“The economy is nowhere near where it was.”

 

Mr. Diamond’s quote is from 2013, but it might equally well have been 2011, or 2008, or 2017.

 

On the one hand housing is expensive, on the other hand poor people are poor

 

All such economy-is-wrong thinking ignores the basic fact of affordable housing: It always costs money, and the amount is roughly same regardless of the economy, because as the economy rises, so do housing and land prices; and if prices fall, that’s because the economy’s in retreat

 

We’re having a little trouble with our employment figures

 

And that means, for all the noise-making, the reality is grim.

 

 

7. Mayor de Blasio’s results are no better than the predecessor whom he scorned

 

For a purely click-bait-oriented journalistic – that is, one who does not care about the content, he wants only to drive traffic – the beauty of homelessness as a beat is its timeliness.  You can reuse the same phrases every two or three years – just update the person to blame, and the numbers.  This is from 2013:

 

New York City has seen one of the steepest increases in homeless families in the past decade, advocates said, growing 73% since 2002. The surge was accelerated by the financial crisis and mortgage meltdown, which put many lower-middle class families out of their homes, economists have said. And even though New York City has regained all the jobs it lost in the recession, economists have said they are lower-paying ones.

 

And this from 2016:

 

When Mr. de Blasio took office in 2014, the city shelter system had a budget of about $1 billion and a population of about 50,700.

 

The administration is spending about $350 million a year on rent for those who they believe could become homeless or are leaving shelters. The city is now spending $79 million annually on street outreach, $62 million on legal services—up tenfold from Mr. de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg—and $190 million on shelter security, up by $90 million. Last week, the city added $52 million to its budget for homelessness.

 

Juxtaposing the two stories, you’d never know there was a mayoral change, nor that the new guard had won election in part by lambasting the current guard.  Of course, we can go back three years for this:

 

In January, the average number of people in city homeless shelters hit a record 50,000, a 19% jump from the previous year and a 61% rise since Mr. Bloomberg took office in 2002, according to a report based on city statistics from the Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group. Among those in city shelters were a record 21,000 children, a 61% increase during Mr. Bloomberg’s tenure, the statistics showed.

 

Then we can go forward again three years for this:

 

“We need to stop being controlled by the media’s obsession on whether numbers have gone up or gone down,” said Christine Quinn.

 

If the statistics were good, Mayor de Blasio would be trumpeting his success.  And if not for numbers, how can the public judge whether any department, official, or service program is doing a good job, whether the $1.6 billion is being well spent?

 

For Mr. de Blasio, the relentless demand that shelter capacity be increased and the broader criticism of his administration on the issue of homelessness reflect the limitations of the mayor’s liberal agenda in a city where economic inequality has deepened over many years, not least in the housing market.

 

Though the Times is eager[October, 2016]  to imply otherwise, the fault dear Blasio is not in the city’s inequality but in himself, in his unwillingness to change strategy or listen to informed advice, as was reported a report earlier (New York Post, November 1, 2015; Turquoise font ):

 

Ms. Barrios-Paoli at her HHS desk

(The urn is labeled, Ashes of Problem Employees)

 

The city’s top official on health and homelessness quit because she was tired of being ignored by a mayor more interested in boosting his national profile than attending to the city’s day-to-day concerns, sources said.

 

Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli worked for five mayors and oversaw seven city agencies under Mayor de Blasio — but she couldn’t get meetings with him, sources said.

 

Frustrated by her declining ­access and inability to get initiatives green-lighted, the 70-year-old former nun announced her resignation on Aug. 31, shocking the advocacy community.

 

“She was fed up,” a City Hall source said. “She wasn’t able to do her job.”

 

The right woman for the job?

 

A year later, Ms. Barrios-Paoli was even more explicit:

 

Ex-Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli blasted her old boss Mayor de Blasio for not having a long-term vision to deal with homelessness — and said she left the administration because she didn’t like the way it was handling the issue.

 

The former nun, who was well-respected among advocates for the poor, said there is too much “immediatism” in the administration when it comes to homelessness.

 

“They are not seeing the long term and they don’t have a long-term plan,” she said in an interview on NY1 Noticias in Spanish.

 

Never having run for office myself, much less been elected, I have no real understanding of the pressures and imperatives a politician faces and how much the compels short-term thinking … but I can say that short-term thinking never solves a structural problem, and if your position prevents you from thinking long term, you have a duty to put in place people who can think long term, and then back their judgment even in the face of opposition.  Otherwise you’re doomed to a Sisyphean cycle of re-election without purpose, and periodic replacement of the capable who have burned out:

 

As the exploding homeless problem began capturing headlines over the summer, according to our source, Barrios-Paoli said, “I told you so. If you’re not going to listen to anything I say, I’m out.”

Sorry about the arm-twisting, Lilliam: it’ll heal soon enough

 

[Continued tomorrow in Part 8.]

The homeless magnet: Part 6, 563 days for adult families

January 23, 2017 | Apartments, de Blasio, Development, Ecosystem, Homelessness, Housing, Incentives, Mobility, New York City, NIMBY, Politics, Poverty, Rental, Vouchers | No comments 42 views

 

[Continued from the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.]

 

By: David A. Smith

Make another joke like that and I’ll show you who’s heartless

By now in this extended and slowly-written post, it has become clear that the de Blasio Administration, having decried [A favorite newspaper word, eh? – Ed.] the policies of its ‘heartless’ predecessor the Bloomberg Administration, had found itself entangled in [policies that it would have condemned had they been done by Mayor Bloomberg, such as warehousing the homeless overnight in hotels.

We’re just letting you know how we feel about this

 

Sources used in this post

 

New York Times, July 28, 2009; Seaweed font

New York Times, May 31, 2011; Emerald font

New York Times, February 8, 2012; Kelly green font

Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2013: Sapphire font

Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2013: Azure font

AHI blog: New York’s self-reinforcing homeless system, October 21-25, 2013

New York Times, July 25, 2014; Crimson font

New York Post, November 1, 2015; Turquoise font

New York Times, October 25, 2016; Forest green font

Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2016: Siena font

New York Daily News, December 1, 2016; Garnet font

WNYC, December 5, 2016: pink font (AHI rough transcript)

Coalition for the Homeless web site, accessed January 1, 2017, gray font

 

 

And what of Mayor de Blasio’s grand plans to build more supportive housing? 

 

High rents and a dearth of housing affordable to low- and moderate-income New Yorkers have created a complicated reality for Mr. de Blasio, and for Mr. Banks.

 

He’s run into the same immovable obstacle that blocked his predecessor and his predecessor’s predecessor.

 

We know hgow to print up No posters

 

 

6. Housing will be in permanent shortage due to NIMBYism and rent control

 

Prediction: Housing production, operation, and management will continue to be contentious and constipated.  New York will continue to misuse its rental housing stock, and the undeserving connected will reap windfall benefits while the deserving unconnected live in deplorable conditions.

 

Civic associations in Maspeth and other parts of Queens chartered buses last month to stage a boisterous protest in front of Mr. Banks’s Brooklyn home, returning to demonstrate there again on Oct. 15. They are angry that homeless people are being given hotel beds in their communities.

 

Protesters outside a Holiday Inn Express in Queens where New York City planned to place homeless people. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration appears to have underestimated the backlash such a move would provoke. Credit Christian Hansen for The New York Times

 

The Administration’s failure is not for want of trying:

 

Some advocates and critics of the administration, including city Comptroller Scott Stringer, a Democrat, have said it is easier to do business with the city since [new Homeless Commissioner Steven] Banks came on board.

 

We’ve met Mr. Banks before and we’ll meet him again in a few posts: his life story earns him a whole subsection.

 

You’re really going to love this job, Steve, it’s going to be a piece of cake

 

“Steve has done a remarkable job since he took over,” said George McDonald, who runs a homeless services organization called the Doe Fund.

 

In earlier parts of this post we also met Mr. McDonald in his guise as a newly cloaked Republican, the GOP primary having been adjudged easier to win (correct, though it did not avail Mr. McDonald, who lost the nomination to Joe Lhota, who himself was soundly defeated by now-Mayor de Blasio), though for Mr.McDonald one senses that in political terms he’s a Kinsey 3.

 

Republican or Democrat?  Do you have friends in both camps?

 

His anti-homelessness non-profit’s motto, and a good one, is work works”, and it uses a comprehensive retraining and support program in which participants enlist for twelve months and from which they graduate, with the hope and often the result that they become independent wage-earners who can afford modest housing on their own.

 

They are the lucky ones: many who enter the homeless system are being shuttled about from station to station with no way up or out.

 

As of last month, the average stay in shelter had risen to 563 days for adult families and 355 days for single adults, leading some to wonder whether the city is doing enough to move families into better situations.

 

Imagine living a year and a half in a homeless shelter, being expelled from it every morning and moving back in to it every night.  How much damage to your intellect, psyche, and motivation would that do?

 

Gail Nayowith, a longtime advocate for children who has led nonprofits focused on poor children and those in foster care, said commercial hotels were a poor solution, even if temporary, and she lamented what she saw as a clear reversal by Mr. Banks. “Hotels are not places for children to grow up in,” she said. “He knows better.”

 

It may be shelter, but it’s hardly home: Family in NYC shelter

 

City officials have sometimes resisted building shelters because they are worried about political blowback, advocates and providers said.

 

While shelters are a poor solution, they are effectively mandated by Callahan unless the City is somehow able to conjure up new affordable housing, and there is no judicial order to compel communities to accept new affordable housing even as there is a judicial order for the city to house whomever is homeless in New York.

 

Some advocates said the city should spend more money on permanent and supportive housing for homeless residents and try to move people from shelters into public housing.

 

Fortunately, we all know how good New York City’s public housing is, how well maintained, how well managed, how well organized and governed.

 

 

City officials said they are committed to building 15,000 supportive housing units over the next 15 years.

 

Being committed to doing something is not the same as doing it.  Saying you are committed to something is not the same as being committed to it.  An elected or appointed official saying he or she is committed is not the same as knowing you will be in city government long enough for your statement to be tested.

 

Maspeth residents are not mollified by the city’s retreat from its plans to convert the Holiday Inn Express into a homeless shelter.

 

“We have a history of fighting back and never letting go,” said Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association and an organizer of the rallies.

 

Promoting the civic virtues like neighborhood cleanup

The administration, mindful that it is losing in terms of both the numbers and the politics of homelessness, is defending its approach with a social media campaign of videos showing those on both sides of the issue. One juxtaposes images of a demonstration outside a Queens hotel where homeless families are living against an interview with a single mother staying there with her infant. Protesters can be heard chanting, “White lives matter.”

 

While I understand the de Blasio administration’s frustration with localized opposition, if he or his officials thought those ads would help them secure approval for supportive housing for the homeless, then they were spectacularly clueless.

 

The videos have antagonized local residents who feel ignored and are engaging in an “extreme act of civil disobedience,” said Ms. Nayowith. 

 

Ms. Nayowith sees it as ‘extreme civil disobedience’

 

When Tip O’Neill observed that all politics is local politics, he did not extend that reasoning as far as it should logically go.  When the political is micro-local – in this case, the mayor of New York City’s eight million people versus the micro-neighborhood of Juniper Park – using a strategy of shaming the micro neighborhood is counterproductive: it doesn’t matter how many Upper East Siders think the Juniper Park locals are troglodytes, the Upper East Side has no votes in the fight.

 

Ms. Nayowith said the de Blasio administration appeared to be fighting the wrong fight. “We agree that homeless people need access to permanent housing,” she said. “I don’t see any of that. What I see are these advertisements that polarize the community.”

 

On the other hand, the ads are brilliant … if their purpose isn’t to secure new supportive housing in Juniper Park, but rather to burnish the mayor’s credentials with Upper East Side political donors.

 

I voted for de Blasio – how about you?

 

But that would be far too cynical of me – wouldn’t it?

 

[Continued tomorrow in Part 7.]

The homeless magnet: Part 5, Typically in isolated areas

January 18, 2017 | Apartments, de Blasio, Development, Ecosystem, Homelessness, Housing, Incentives, Mobility, New York City, NIMBY, Politics, Poverty, Rental, Vouchers | No comments 61 views

[Continued from the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.]

 

By: David A. Smith

 

In yesterday’s Part 4, I detoured into the demise of a Bloomberg Administration program called Advantage that moved people out of homeless shelters into normal market apartments with a two-year subsidy analogous to Housing Choice Vouchers, coupled with work or job training requirements. Despite its impressive performance, the program was sunk with the state, at the behest of Governor Andrew Cuomo, canceled its share of the funding (roughly 40%), which automatically canceled the Federal government’s 15% share of funding, making the program unsustainable according to the mayor. 

 

 

Sources used in this post

 

New York Times, July 28, 2009; Seaweed font

New York Times, May 31, 2011; Emerald font

New York Times, February 8, 2012; Kelly green font

Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2013: Sapphire font

Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2013: Azure font

AHI blog: New York’s self-reinforcing homeless system, October 21-25, 2013

New York Times, July 25, 2014; Crimson font

New York Post, November 1, 2015; Turquoise font

New York Times, October 25, 2016; Forest green font

Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2016: Siena font

New York Daily News, December 1, 2016; Garnet font

WNYC, December 5, 2016: pink font (AHI rough transcript)

Coalition for the Homeless web site, accessed January 1, 2017, gray font

 

 

The Governor’s change of heart aligned with Coalition for the Homeless, which lobbied to kill the program because “the program’s money should be used for a different program that was more effective.”

 

At this I shrieked at my computer screen, “Don’t you know the basic rule of budgetary politics?”

 

Sometimes a guy’s gotta shriek what a guy’s gotta shriek

 

 

Basic Rule of Budgetary Politics

 

Funding allocation is not a zero-sum game.

 

It’s either:

 

1. Positive sum: Bring something the elected officials want, and they conjure money.

2. Negative sum: Give elected officials cover to cut your program and they’ll pocket it for something else.

 

 

I cannot believe anyone who works in the political arena at any level – local, state, Federal – could be so dumb as not to know that. 

 

 

Certainly Mayor Bloomberg knew it, and he made no secret of both his anger and his disdain:

 

Echoing comments from earlier in the week, the mayor called that position the “dumbest thing.” and accused members of the coalition of being “totally duplicitous” or “misguided.”

 

All right, no Grotesque Gulps for you!  Er – never mind.

 

After those warnings, the number of applicants to enter shelters dropped by 17%.

 

A sudden 17% drop is big – what caused it?

 

Evidence, the city said, that the program might have enticed some people to leave their homes for the promise of the subsidy.

 

“You never know what motivates people,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said during a recent [2011] radio show. “One theory is that some people have been coming into the homeless system, the shelter system, in order to qualify for a program that helps you move out of the homeless system.”

 

This being New York, the program’s termination led to yet more litigation:

 

The Legal Aid Society sued –

 

This is the same Legal Aid Society whose chief litigator at the time, Steven Banks, is now Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, administering the City’s anti-homelessness initiatives and jousting with his former platform.

 

– and a state court ordered the Bloomberg administration to pay benefits while the case continued. 

 

Litigation has its place, but litigation never creates any money.  Either it diverts money from something else, or it destroys money.  Like extractive surgery, it’s painful, invasive, and not always successful, so it should be used sparingly.

 

Are you sure this will work?

Trust me, I’m a barber

 

Last week, that order was lifted and the city announced that subsidy checks for February would not be paid, leaving about 8,000 households short on rent.

 

The program’s impending obituary was reported in a classic New York Times morning-after editorial combo, one part eulogy, one part lamentation to reanimate the dead:

 

The city announced last week [February 1, 2012] that it will immediately end what was once a $140 million rent-subsidy program that has helped keep more than 10,000 households in apartments and out of shelters. The move hurts an extremely vulnerable population in bad economic times and will almost certainly add to shelter costs.

 

Advantage is one program that has helped reduce homelessness. It should be revived and extended.

 

A year later, Mayor Bloomberg was still remembering the demise of Advantage and the cost to New York City’s budget and to New York City’s homeless:

 

On Friday, the mayor continued to lash out at advocates for the homeless — and specifically those who work at the Coalition for the Homeless—saying they helped cause the increases in homeless.

 

I wouldn’t call that ‘lashing out’, which implies personal malice, I’d call that seeing the whole system.

 

 

5.  Converting other uses into homeless shelters will be stymied by opposition

 

Retrofitting non-residential uses into homeless shelters will be thwarted by NIMBYism.

 

In the long run, homelessness will never be ‘solved’ without a combination of (x) life-rebuilding services that help and enable those who want to find their way to reduce vulnerability and dependence, and (y) appropriately designed quality affordable housing, as the place where the formerly homeless person can feel and be safe enough to get on with that critical business.

 

Easy to describe, hard to do

 

Creating new permanent affordable housing is difficult for any community, doubly difficult if that housing will be formerly homeless or permanently supportive housing, and quadruply difficult in New York City, whose NIMBY’s are of a piece with many other New Yorkers.

 

Before the long run, therefore, lies an extended short run – and just as New York City’s temporary sheds have become a permanent legal workaround inflicted on pedestrians because of runaway tort litigation and relentlessly creeping regulation.

 

The city pays regular rates for rooms, and remodels entire hotels into shelters under long-term contracts.

 

So it is with the City’s homeless accommodations – unable to build any new homeless housing anywhere fast enough to keep up with the influx of new homeless, the city must grab for whatever it can – and what it gets is the most adversely selected of an adversely selected inventory:

 

Such hotels are typically in isolated areas and have high vacancy rates; their owners often see the conversions as guaranteeing profits.

 

If you’re homeless, you could be living here now … for $160 a night

 

That is how the city ended up focusing on a Holiday Inn Express in Maspeth. But the de Blasio administration appears to have underestimated the backlash such a move would provoke in the neighborhood, long known for a level of civic engagement that can turn combative.

 

Homeless shelter, easy-on/ easy-off?

 

On Oct. 11, Mr. Banks said that the city had abandoned plans to convert the hotel to a shelter because the owner refused. Instead, 30 homeless men were placed in rooms there at a regular guest rate of $160 a night.

 

 [Continued tomorrow in Part 6.]

The homeless magnet: Part 4, Provided they work or take job training

January 17, 2017 | Apartments, de Blasio, Development, Ecosystem, Homelessness, Housing, Incentives, Mobility, New York City, NIMBY, Politics, Poverty, Rental, Vouchers | No comments 56 views

 [Continued from the preceding Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.]

 

By: David A. Smith

 

As we’ve seen earlier in this multi-part post, New York City finds itself in a pit of its own digging, where New York today has 20% more than it has a few years ago despite a 60% increase in spending on homelessness prevention and relief services.

 

(Or is it because of that 60% increase?  Because New York city is operating under a consent decree that requires it to house everyone who shows up, whether by private plane, bus, or on foot, there is no ceiling on ‘effective demand’ and hence no cap on the Big Apple’s tab.)

 

Sources used in this post

 

New York Times, July 28, 2009; Seaweed font

New York Times, May 31, 2011; Emerald font

New York Times, February 8, 2012; Kelly green font

Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2013: Sapphire font

Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2013: Azure font

AHI blog: New York’s self-reinforcing homeless system, October 21-25, 2013

New York Times, July 25, 2014; Crimson font

New York Post, November 1, 2015; Turquoise font

New York Times, October 25, 2016; Forest green font

Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2016: Siena font

New York Daily News, December 1, 2016; Garnet font

WNYC, December 5, 2016: pink font (AHI rough transcript)

Coalition for the Homeless web site, accessed January 1, 2017, gray font

 

 

Nor does the perversity of potential incentives stop with how much people consume; it also applies both to the people whom one might expect to be opposed to homeless-housing innovations, and also to some whom one would expect to support it:

 

Steven Banks and Mayor Bloomberg, at a time when Banks’s Legal Aid Society was frequently suing the city

 

 

4. Distrust between advocates and elected officials obstructs innovation and perpetuates the current, failing approaches

 

Filtering people into the population is opposed because it’s feared to be a stalking horse for cutting funding.

 

Under Mayor Bloomberg, whom the homeless-advocacy community largely distrusted and criticized, the City of New York had an innovative program to give homeless people rent subsidies (akin to Housing Choice Vouchers) and help them find housing in the marketplace:

 

The program, called Advantage, started in 2007 and offers subsidies for up to two years [around $900 a month] to help people in shelters afford their own apartments, provided they work or take part in job training.

 

From the New York Times: “Kasha Phillips-Lewis with her daughter at John Jay College, where she works part time.”

 

The program was incentive-based, requires a matching commitment from the recipient, and is time-limited – all designed with the observant herd in mind.  The program also contained a cafeteria-style set of incentives:

 

In a similar vein, his administration began paying poor families for reaching certain goals, like going to the doctor for regular checkups and attending parent-teacher conferences –

 

There’s the most basic form of pay-for-performance: if you have done X (possibly X several times), then we give you Y.

 

You do things for me, I do things for you

 

Advantage was also explicitly an pilot, with program modifications based on observable behavioral changes among the participants:

 

– though programs that rewarded students with cellphones and $50 payments were abandoned because they did not significantly improve achievement.

 

All in all, this sounds like a sensible innovation:

 

In the broad form, for ‘unhappy families’ substitute ‘homeless households’

 

Because under the broad version of the Reverse-Anna- Karenina Principle, no solution works for all unhappy households,

 

The Advantage program was envisioned as a transitional step between homelessness and self-sufficiency.  Its policy toward the homeless has followed the mayor’s centrist philosophy of  mixing the social safety net with personal responsibility.

 

Advantage should have continued to be part of the suite of homeless prevention and homelessness recovery services a city has available, which it can mix and match based on the circumstances and histories of the people and households who have become homeless in New York. 

 

Some may be best ‘back home’.  For others, the disruption can be temporary (say, a family schism or a spouse incarcerated for a stretch) if the family is housed in the meantime.  For some, even housing is not enough – the barrier to employment or income security must be removed, with the active participation of the homeless customer.

 

The line keeps rising no matter what anyone does

 

Its projected cost for the next fiscal year [beginning July 1, 2011 and ending June 30, 2012] was $140 million, with the state and federal governments contributing $92 million of that.

 

For the City to want the state to share its cost makes good sense to me, for three reasons:

 

1.     The ‘sinks and flows’ model of homelessness triggered by the State Supreme Court’s decision in Callahan, a burden that uniquely falls on New York City.

2.     The strong likelihood that homelessness in New York also triggers state costs.

3.     The matching Federal funds available only if the state (not the city) funded. 

 

Those are great policy reasons.  Perhaps considerations other than policy were involved?

 

The state, citing fiscal constraints, pulled its support, and with it cut off the federal matching dollars.

 

“Andrew, I’m not the one you should worry about running for President – it’s Trump, I tell you, Trump!”

 

I’m sure the governor’s posture had nothing to do with a Democratic governor who may have looked on a Republican mayor as a potential future political threat and current political opponent.  Regardless of the politics, the culprit was an unexpected attack worthy of a WWE-style heel turn:

 

I’m about to do something unexpected

 

The Coalition for the Homeless supported the state’s decision in 2011 to curtail funding for the Advantage rent-subsidy program, that helped homeless people make the transition from shelters to permanent housing.

 

The Coalition’s objection couldn’t have been that the program was failing, because it was producing impressive success:

 

The program has worked well, with 88% of recipients successfully making the transition to living on their own.

 

That is incredible success by any standard – and for curing homelessness it’s little short of miraculous – and cheaper as well:

 

The program has also been cheaper than shelter stays, which cost, on average, $100 a night for a family.

 

What possible reason could homeless advocates have for endorsing cancellation of something that’s working?


Didn’t see that coming, did you?

 

The coalition confirmed this week that it backed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to cut the program. But its position was that the program’s money should be used for a different program that was more effective.

 

At this point, gentle reader, that my head figuratively exploded.

 

Bloggers blog in van – figuratively only!

 

Several months ago, the administration warned that if the state followed through with its plan to stop its financial support, the city could not afford to maintain the program and would cut off aid even to those already participating.

 

Anyone with an ounce of political common sense – heavens, a teaspoon of political common sense – would know what was coming:

 

Instead, after the funding was withdrawn and the city canceled Advantage, it wasn’t replaced with anything.

 

[Continued tomorrow in Part 5.]

The homeless magnet: Part 3, 40 new families arrive every week

January 11, 2017 | Apartments, de Blasio, Development, Ecosystem, Homelessness, Housing, Incentives, Mobility, New York City, NIMBY, Politics, Poverty, Rental, Vouchers | No comments 72 views

 

[Continued from yesterday’s Part 2 and the preceding Part 1.]

 

By: David A. Smith

 

Back in 1979, New York City lost a landmark case, Callahan v. Cuomo, that established as a matter of New York law a state constitutional right to shelter for anyone who ‘meets the financial-need standard for public assistance’ [welfare] and ‘lacks alternative housing alternatives [Yes, that ‘alternative alternatives’ comes from the august Wall Street Journal – Ed.].

 

Defending our freedoms with belt and suspenders!

 

 

Sources used in this post

 

New York Times, July 28, 2009; Seaweed font

New York Daily News, July 31, 2012: purple font

Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2013: Sapphire font

Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2013: Azure font

AHI blog: New York’s self-reinforcing homeless system, October 21-25, 2013

New York Times, July 25, 2014; Crimson font

New York Post, November 1, 2015; Turquoise font

New York Times, October 25, 2016; Forest green font

Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2016: Siena font

WNYC, December 5, 2016: pink font (AHI rough transcript)

Coalition for the Homeless web site, accessed January 1, 2017, gray font

 

 

However well-intentioned the litigators who brought the case, and regardless of your views about the legal reasoning by which the right was determined to exist in the New York state constitution, the consequences are predictable: the Big Apple becomes a magnet for those who are homeless, or those who wish their local homeless to disappear somewhere else.

 

 

3. The city has become a homeless magnet and a homeless converter

 

New York City can never ‘eliminate homelessness’ because every new unit of supply it adds will just attract another homeless person.  As fast as New York City creates homeless beds (whether in shelters or apartments), new immigrants will claim them. 

 

As far as I know, no one has done a comprehensive census of the causes of New York’s rising homeless population, so what passes for evidence are anecdotes, second-hand reports, which allows any anecdote to stand as ersatz evidence

 

Many [of NYC’s homeless] come from prisons and some from other states, city officials said.

 

Whatever the reasons, people keep arriving, such as cited in this 2012 story:

 

More than 40 new families arrive every week from Puerto Rico, Florida and elsewhere — and head straight to packed intake centers where they wait to be placed in shelters.

 

While 40 families a week may not sound like a flood, if we assume 2 people per family, that’s 4,000 people a year, and the rise in New York City homelessness is less than half that.  So even if the City has a 50% success rate on dealing with the immigrating homeless, it will still be losing ground at the rate of roughly $50 million more cost per year (4,000 x 50% x $26,000 per person) – coincidentally (or not?) about what the city spends on housing the homeless in hotels.  You can’t bail out the ocean against the rising tid..

 

“It used to be very rare where we’d see people coming directly from the airport,” said Vida Chavez-Downes, who heads the city’s Bronx intake facility. “But now I see a consistent amount of those people. For some reason, people feel it’s the only way.”

 

The Daily News personifies the flow

 

Homelessness is one of the stations on a cycle of dependency whose other stations may include foster care, school dropout, gangs, incarceration, substance abuse, domestic violence, teen pregnancy, and PTSD.  When you’ve become homeless, your horizons narrow, and if you can’t make ends meet, you may gravitate to the biggest city you know, in hopes of finding someone you know.  And a bus ticket to New York City will get you a judicial entitlement:

 

“We have to provide shelter to anybody,” Mayor Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show Friday. “You can arrive in your private jet at Kennedy Airport, take a private limousine and go straight to the shelter system and walk in the door and we’ve got to give you shelter. That’s what the law is. I didn’t write the law.”

 

“Uber driver?  Take me to the homeless shelter!”

 

In response to the mayor’s comments, Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst at the coalition, said, “The idea that people are buying plane tickets just to stay in New York City’s homeless shelters is absurd.”

 

Do I look deliberately obtuse to you?

 

Mr. Markee must have been sufficiently irritated by then-Mayor Bloomberg’s political theater that he just threw out an insta-rebuttal, or he was being deliberately obtuse, because the answer’s more obvious: it’s not a private jet, it’s a bus ticket, and it’s bought not by the homeless person but by either that person’s relatives or friends, or by those from elsewhere in the great Empire state who wish to send their homeless on a one-way ride out of town, like the French have sought to do with their Roma visitors – and like New York City itself did with its Puerto Rican indigent:

 

They are flown to Paris ($6,332), Orlando ($858), Johannesburg ($2,551), or most frequently, San Juan ($484).  All are families who have ended up homeless, and all the plane tickets are courtesy of the city of New York (one-way).

 

Since 2007 [i.e. in two years], the Bloomberg administration has paid for more than 550 families to leave the city, as a way of keeping them out of the expensive shelter system, which costs $36,000 a year per family.

 

Now, of course, it’s 50-60% higher than that,

 

One-way tickets ‘home’ aren’t as heartless as you might instinctively conclude, because these homeless are stranded and separated from their family support network

 

All it takes is for a relative elsewhere to agree to take the family in.

 

They were stuck in New York because their relatives lacked the resources to fetch them back:

 

Many of them are longtime New Yorkers who have come upon hard times, arrive at the shelter’s doorstep and jump at the offer to move at no cost. 

 

Others are recent arrivals who are happy to return home after becoming discouraged by the city’s noise, the mazelike subway, the difficult job market or the high cost of housing.

 

There’s a part of the challenge: people can be lured to the big city by the promise of jobs – especially from Puerto Rico, groaning under its own fiscal indentures and with its own economy in a tailspin – only to discover that with higher earnings come higher housing costs, higher transportation costs, and other costs they never had to incur back home.

 

Bring the home to the homeless, or send the homeless back home?

 

It’s common-sense public policy,” said Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless. “Instead of keeping them at a huge expense in our shelter system, why not pay for their transportation to friends and relatives in another state who have someplace for them to stay and maybe a job?”

 

This is the same Mr. Markee who several months later would complain in exasperation about the absurdity of Mayor Bloomberg’s buying plane tickets hyperbole.

 

The city uses a Manhattan-based travel agency, Protravel, to buy the one-way tickets, which most often are for Puerto Rico, Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, records show.

 

“I’m excited about leaving,” said Vanessa Cruz, 24, who with her 4-year-old son, Izayah, is accepting a one-way ticket to Seattle after two years in a Brooklyn shelter. “I feel like I’ll have a better opportunity out there.”

 

The concept is ‘sinks and flows’ – if there are a set of flows, but one stop where things only flow in, never out, that stop becomes a sink and it gradually collects all the flows.  New York City is the homeless sink for its state, and possibly a homeless sink for Puerto Rico as well.

 

For ‘s’ substitute “upstate New York”, for ‘t’ substitute “New York City”

 

There are signs that the needle is moving. City records show about 22,000 evictions in 2015, down from almost 29,000 in 2013 when Mr. Bloomberg was mayor. More than 48,000 families received rental assistance this year, likely keeping many from being evicted. More than 10,000 building-code violations at shelters have been cleared.

 

Yes, but all that said, the population’s still rising on his watch. 

 

“The [shelter] population is significantly lower than it would have been had the administration not took the actions it took,” Mr. Banks said.

 

Is it?  Where’s your evidence?  But what else can Mr. Banks say?

 

Facing an incoming tide of people, a tide that the City of New York has no legal ability to divert and no current practical initiative to stem, the City is engaging in precisely the type of short-term horizon thinking its homeless do – find beds for tonight and hope something better happens tomorrow.

 

As fast as you create beds, people will come to fill them

 

The city now uses budget hotels to house homeless people, a practice city officials say they would like to end.

 

Homeless people say they would like not to be homeless.  Desire is not a strategy, nor is effort a strategy unless it’s accompanied by analysis of obstacles and their removal.

 

There are now 6,100 homeless people living in hotels, up from 2,600 in February.

 

Turning a defunct transient hotel into the homeless hotel

 

Elected officials in Queens filed a lawsuit to prevent the hotel from being converted to a shelter; they argued that a city law required each unit to have cooking facilities. Mr. Banks championed the law in the 1990s in a bid to end the city’s use of “welfare hotels.”

 

Now Mr. Banks finds his current self-confronting the consequences of actions taken by his prior self:

 

In an interview, Mr. Banks said the law applied only to families with children, and that plans called for the Holiday Inn Express to house adult families. Asked whether adult families needed to be able to cook, Mr. Banks said, “not under the law.”

 

[Continued tomorrow in Part 4.]