BY TRONE DOWD
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday his plan to allocate $12.3 million towards the funding of homelessness prevention services to help families in danger of being evicted from their houses across certain areas of New York City.
De Blasio said the services will provide families with a number of different ways to keep them from having to call local shelters, or in even worse cases the streets of New York, home. This will include the funding of improved free legal representation for housing court. According to the mayor, this will help aid thousands of New Yorkers facing a variety of housing troubles and eviction.
“The economic recovery that so many New Yorkers are enjoying now hasn’t reached everyone,” Mayor de Blasio said in a press release. “Too many families are becoming homeless for purely economic reasons – their wages are flat while their rent is steep. With these programs, we are intervening early to keep families in their homes before shelter becomes their only option.”
The investment is part of a concerted effort citywide to pre-emptively assist those on the brink of poverty in getting the help and understanding of the issues they face. Steven Banks, commissioner of the The New York City Human Resources Management Administration said that the barrier of understanding between those in housing court and the true scope of the situation they find themselves in is a part of the reason why so many end up on the streets.
“Too often, low-income tenants in Housing Court without a lawyer face a landlord with a lawyer and that, rather than the facts or the law, determines the outcome,” Banks said. He added that the money the mayor is putting towards the effort “will protect more families and individuals and prevent additional New Yorkers from becoming homeless by keeping them in their homes and preserving affordable housing.”
The HRA is the organization behind the civil legal services provided to clients in New York City. As of this year, there are two types of services meant to protect tenants throughout the city; Anti-eviction legal services meant to prevent families from losing their homes in the first place, and Anti-Harrassment Tenant protection, meant to help residents from being severely pressured out of their homes by landlords and rezoning. The $12.3 million that the mayor is currently allocating will help expand anti-eviction programs in specified areas across the five boroughs. Here in Queens, Jamaica and South Jamaica will see the expansion of these services.
According to de Blasio, the new investment will grow in the coming fiscal years. A total $46.3 million will have been invested towards the initiatives by the end of 2016, and will continue to grow to the end of the following year to $61.8 million. By 2017, the total put towards the plan would be more than 10 times the Mayor’s original $6 million anti-eviction investment first made in 2013. The increased support will provide help to 19,000 households and 13,700 households for anti-eviction and anti-harassment services, respectively a total of about 113,000 individuals once the implementation of these funds are in full swing.
“Prevention is one of our core strategies to stop homelessness before it begins,” Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor said. “Expanding programs like these are crucial to ensuring that families remain in their homes and communities.”
Homelessness has been a major focus for the Mayor since taking office in 2013. Earlier this year, the mayor launched an extensive advertising campaign to promote the city’s Homebase services which started in September 2004. The Homebase program works to connect families with useful resources to prevent homelessness. As of this year, 62,000 individuals are signed up with the program,
This past August, the Queens Tribune reported on the Mayor’s NYC Safe Initiative, a $22.4 million program meant to help the thousands of homeless individuals suffering from extensive mental illnesses get the medical attention they need. The mayor called the program an “evidence-driven public safety and public health program that will help prevent violence.”
While the plans agreeable, the Queens Tribune did reach out to ask the mayor how his newest investment will help those who were already evicted. According to a spokesperson from the Mayor’s office, the De Blasio administration has made efforts to get those already suffering from getting evicted off the streets and into public housing.
“This administration is working aggressively to address homelessness,” spokesperson Ishanee Parikh said, “investing $1 billion over the next four years to prevent homelessness by keeping families and individuals stably housed, move individuals on our street to shelter, and help those in shelter exit to permanent housing.”
According to statistics provided by the Coalition for the Homeless’ State of the Homeless 2015 report, although homelessness rates have declined by as much a 300 families so far in 2015, those hit hardest by the factors contributing to extreme poverty are minority families with young children.
In fact, in 2014 one in 43 children under the age of 18 across the city of New York have spent at least one night in a homeless shelter. In terms of demographic, one in 17 black children and one in 34 Latino children have spent a night in a homeless shelter compared to one in 368 white children. In terms of family, one in every 72 families have at some point relied on homeless shelters. In minority communities, one in every 31 black families and one in every 57 Latino families have spent a night in a homeless shelter.
Many Queens politicians have shown major support to the Mayor’s plan. Borough president Melinda Katz told the Queens Tribune that she is 100 percent behind de Blasio’s proposal.
“Government must do absolutely everything we can to help keep families in their homes,” Katz said. “The Mayor’s bold commitment of such significant resources reflects the level of priority he has placed on preventing homelessness and tenant empowerment, and is a boon for Queens communities.”
Sen. James Sanders Jr. (D-Rochdale Village) said that he too applauded the Mayor’s plan.
“Too many New Yorkers are struggling to find an affordable place to live or to stay in their homes once they have a roof over their head,” Sanders said. “We must do all we can to prevent homelessness and unfair evictions.”
Council Member Rory I. Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), Chair of the Committee on Courts & Legal Services said that “too often, tenants are evicted because they cannot afford a lawyer to defend their legal right to remain in their homes. This substantial increase in funding will provide lawyers to families in areas where tenants have struggled against increasing rents and predatory landlords.”
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly.