No Advantages Here
As one of the most generous housing subsidies in the nation, Bloomberg’s Advantage program is certainly ambitious and well intentioned. Established in 2007, the program aims to provide homeless families with the incentive to find steady employment and move out of shelters by subsidizing their housing costs, requiring that families work 20 hours a week and pay $50 per month in rent.
Yet in the midst of the economic downturn, dwindling employment opportunities and a dearth of affordable housing, the city has announced that it will impose more stringent requirements. To qualify for the program, recipients will now have to supply as much as 40 percent of their income, and at least one member of the family will be required to work 35 hours a week to be eligible for a second year.
While the Department of Homeless Services has contended that only 6 percent of Advantage participants have returned to the shelter system, housing advocacy groups have estimated that the numbers are much higher, as much as two-thirds. Once the new requirements go into effect this fall, it is estimated that 7,400 more families will be ineligible for the program and will be at risk of returning to the shelter system.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who has long been critical of Bloomberg’s approach to homelessness, has warned that the new eligibility standards will only worsen the very problem that it aims to eliminate. And in an audit to be released today, city comptroller John C. Liu reports that weak governance has beleaguered the initiative. The audit states that landlords have pressured tenants into illegal side deals, and that the department failed to properly inspect the quality of the apartments, placing participants in poor housing conditions.
Homelessness in New York City is now at an all-time high, and the Bloomberg administration’s attempts to reduce the population of homeless families has largely failed. Reducing assistance in a time when Advantage participants will not be able to afford it is not the answer.