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 Times, May 31, 2011; Emerald font
New York Times, February 8, 2012; Kelly green font
Gotham Gazette, April 4, 2014; Caramel 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, 2016Siena font
WNYC, December 5, 2016: pink font (AHI rough transcript)
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
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.]