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Maureen Lane

Housing for Vulnerable Families:Small Changes Could Make a World of Difference

The current federally-established fair market rent for a one bedroom apartment in New York City is $882. The average free market rent for the same apartment is almost double that price--$ 1,716. No surprise, then, that many lower income households in New York struggle to find, and maintain, affordable places to live. And it doesn't help that the housing portion of the standard public assistance benefit is a meager $215.

Ever since a 1987 lawsuit, Jiggetts v. Dowling, found that parents on public assistance require adequate shelter for their children, NYS Social Services Law has mandated that all minors have access to stable housing up to the age of 19. But parents lately have been losing much-need rental supplements without prior notification when
their children turn 19 years old. Joe Moran, a CUNY Law student and teaching assistant at CUNY law's Economic Justice Project (EJP), said recently: "We have found a lot of parents losing housing when their sons and daughters 'age out.' These parents are not being given notice. This harshens the effects of the rent supplement
being removed. Plus, it's not any easier to support a 19 year old college student than it is a 17 year old."

City government has really dropped the ball here. The Human Resources Administration (HRA) in the Department of Social Services touts the Family Eviction Prevention Services (FEPS) Rental Supplement program as the most appropriate solution. But FEPS is a housing supplement to prevent evictions that provides rental support only up to five years.

A five-year time limit is simply insufficient for families transitioning from welfare. And, what's whose, FEPS does not apply when a family is sanctioned for "breaking" welfare rules (a common occurrence), even though in my long experience at Welfare Rights Initiative (WRI) representing CUNY students who receive welfare I have found few legitimate HRA sanctions. In fact, 99% of CUNY students win their cases against sanctions. If your housing gets derailed by HRA's flawed bureaucracy, you can easily end up homeless
through no fault of your own.

So often policy questions like this that affect the most vulnerable people are decided without any thoughtful attempt to understand how government can best fulfill basic needs. In an election season all about changing things for the better, here is an urgent area of urban policy where very small improvements could truly make a world
of difference.

Maureen Lane: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 6:28 AM, Nov 03, 2008 in Housing | Welfare
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