News Clips on Advantage City Says State Is Forcing Cuts to Program for the Homeless By Mosi Secret, New York Times March 11, 2011 Saying that state budget cuts have forced New York City to stop accepting new people into a successful program intended to reduce homelessness, the city mailed a letter on Thursday to hundreds of real estate brokers involved in the program informing them that no new participants will be taken after next Monday. The letter from Seth Diamond, the city‟s commissioner of homeless services, came after weeks of lobbying by the Bloomberg administration to restore state funding for the program, called Advantage, which provides housing subsidies for people who find stable jobs, allowing them to leave shelters. About 15,000 households now receive money under the program, which was created in 2007 and provides subsidies for up to two years, the city said. “Due to proposed budget cuts that will eliminate the Advantage rental subsidy program, effective after the close of business Monday, March 14, we will stop conducting lease signings,” Mr. Diamond said in the letter to the brokers, who connect homeless families with the program. Those already in the program will be able to stay in their homes. “Over 90 percent of those who completed the subsidy period remain in the community and out of shelter,” the letter said. “This funding reduction will cause a significant increase in the city‟s shelter population and force the city to build 70 new shelters.” The city and state disagree on the numbers; city officials say the program costs $140 million annually, while the state says the cost is $103 million. The two also do not agree on what amount of financing the state is cutting. In an interview, Mr. Diamond said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo‟s proposed budget would kill the program. “The state budget decisions drive whether we will have Advantage next year,” Mr. Diamond said. State officials pointed the finger right back. “In the midst of a serious budget process that affects the lives of all New Yorkers, it is counterproductive, disingenuous and dangerous to play games by announcing a so-called newly discovered crisis of the day,” the governor‟s spokesman, Joshua Vlasto, said in a statement. “The reality is that, regardless of this year‟s anticipated cuts, New York City has the funds to support the continuation of this program if it so chooses.” ______________________________________________________________________________ Rental-Aid Program in Danger By Samuel Goldsmith, New York Daily News March 11, 2011 State budget cuts are forcing Mayor Bloomberg to eliminate a rental assistance program that keeps thousands of homeless New Yorkers off the streets, city officials said yesterday. If the $192 million Advantage program is axed, the city would have to build 70 new shelters to house the soon-to-be evicted residents. “The state sees the savings of ending the program, but not the devastating impact it will have,” said Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond. Gov. Cuomo has proposed cutting $403 million in city funding for social services. Diamond said the city will continue Advantage if the state fills the gap. City officials say more than 90 percent of those who stay in the program for two years stay out of shelters. ______________________________________________________________________________ City, State Spar Over Homeless Aid Cuts By Michael Howard Saul, Wall Street Journal March 11, 2011 New York City next week will stop moving families from homeless shelters to homes—and another 15,000 families already in homes could soon lose their rental subsidy—as a result of a proposed cut in state aid, Bloomberg administration officials said Thursday. Seth Diamond, commissioner of the city's Department of Homeless Services, predicted the loss in state aid will cause a 51% increase in the number of families with children in the city's shelter system by June 2012. The loss in aid will force the city to build 70 new shelters in neighborhoods citywide, he said. The decision to stop issuing new leases—coupled with the warning about building a dramatic number of new shelters— comes as the Bloomberg administration ratchets up its lobbying effort to convince Albany to restore the money. The city signs new leases for about 80 to 90 new families a week as part of its "Advantage" program, a rental subsidy initiative aimed at helping the homeless move from emergency shelter to self-sufficiency as quickly as possible. Mr. Diamond said the state cut will have a "devastating impact on families." Josh Vlasto, a spokesman for the governor, said in a statement that the Bloomberg administration is engaging in scare tactics. "The reality is that, regardless of this year's anticipated cuts, NYC has the funds to support the continuation of this program if it so chooses," he said. The city and state disputed how much the state is cutting. The city said it was a $92 million cut; the state said it was $35 million. Program That Helps Homeless Get Housing Threatened By State Cuts By Dean Meminger, NY1 March 11, 2011 The Bloomberg administration says state budget cuts to the so-called "Advantage" program will force tens of thousands of people into shelters instead of letting them live in apartments, but the governor's office says those claims are not true. The Bloomberg administration says state budget cuts to the so-called "Advantage" program will force tens of thousands of people into shelters instead of letting them live in apartments, but the governor's office says those claims are not true. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report. The city's Department of Homeless services says it fears it is going to have to terminate the Advantage program, which places homeless families in apartments and helps them stay there by paying most of the rent for up to two years. "The devastating part of this for families is that the governor is proposing to pull the rug from underneath people who are already in the community," said Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond. If $65 million in Advantage funding is cut from the state budget, the city says it will have to terminate Advantage starting next week, while 3,000 families are looking for apartments through the program. "Some of them are days away from moving and they are not going to be able to do so because of this cut," said Diamond. The family of Natalie Rizzo is one of 15,000 actually in apartments. "This program is really helping at a time when I cannot afford my full rent," said Rizzo. "A lot the people on the program are single parents trying to get back on their feet like myself." DHS officials say without the apartments, shelters will overflow by next summer. The city predicts it would have to pay $80 million to build 70 more shelters around the city. "A lot of that is our money and there is capital cost to build as well as operate," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The governor's office says that doomsday scenario just is not true. A spokesman said, "The reality is that, regardless of this year's anticipated cuts, New York City has the funds to support the continuation of this program if it so chooses." "The mayor and city officials are really scaring homeless children and families, scaring landlords, scaring service providers," said Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless. Advocates for the homeless say they are not upset that this program may come to an end, as it is not really an advantage for people in the shelter system. "The fact of the matter is the Advantage program is a failed program. It's a revolving door back to shelter for thousands of children and parents," said Markee. The Coalition for the Homeless says there are plenty of public housing apartments available and the city should use them to help the homeless instead of paying private landlords. ______________________________________________________________________________ Critics of Homeless Program Fight to Save It Diana Scholl, City Limits Weekly March 11, 2011 New York City‟s Advantage housing program has received plenty of criticism during its four years of existence. Advocates, homeless people and government officials have at various points derided the program‟s success rates, its work requirements, the involvement of allegedly shady landlords and the philosophy behind temporary housing. But now, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo‟s budget threatening to eliminate New York State‟s $85 million share of the program, many—if not all—Work Advantage critics are fighting to save the program. “Something‟s better than nothing,” says New York City Council member Annabel Palma, the chair of the Council‟s General Welfare Committee. In October, she introduced a bill that would require the city to better track and report the outcomes of participants. “Work Advantage is not a perfect program. But to cut across the board is completely devastating. Shelters can‟t handle the demand now.” City Limits spoke to Palma as she drove up to Albany Tuesday morning to lobby state legislators to resist cuts to the program, which provides two years of rental assistance for families transitioning out of shelters. With the notable exception of the Coalition for the Homeless, most Advantage critics are holding their noses and defending the program against state cuts. Despite what they say are the initiative's flaws, there are 15,000 families—comprising 45,000 people—who are currently housed as a result of the program. Work Advantage is a joint city, state and federal program, and New York State picks up a 25 percent share. DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond said the city won‟t continue the program without the state match. DHS is lobbying hard for the state Senate and Assembly to reinstate the state‟s portion. “The city needs the state support to have Advantage. Anything else will cost more money. We want to do the most cost-effective thing,” Diamond says. On Thursday Diamond sent an email to providers that “effective after the close of business Monday March 14, we will stop conducting lease signings” But he added: “Should the state budget continue Advantage as it is currently designed we will reverse this decision.” According to the daily DHS shelter census, 37,725 individuals slept in homeless shelters on March 3, 2011, the most recent night statistics were available. The shelter census for single adults was higher in February than at the comparable point of the last six years. Ending Work Advantage would further strain that system. Diamond‟s letter also stated that losing the funding would “force the city to build 70 new shelters, impacting neighborhoods throughout the city.” A Second Try The Advantage Program began in 2007 as a replacement for the short-lived Housing Stability Plus, another temporary housing subsidy that, unlike the Advantage program, was restricted to families receiving public assistance benefits and offered a four-year rental subsidy that declined each year. After sustained criticism of Housing Stability Plus by advocates, who criticized linking the subsidy to public assistance, the department shifted gears to Advantage. Under Work Advantage, participating households must have at least one person working 20 hours a week in the first year of the subsidy and 35 hours a week during the second year. In the program's first years, households were required to make a $50 contribution toward rent each month if they worked at least 20 hours a week. Starting in August 2010, the program instead required new participants to contribute 30 percent of their incomes towards the Advantage program during their first year and 40 percent during the second. There is also a limited Children‟s Advantage and Fixed Income Advantage program for people unable to work because of disabilities or illness. If New York State‟s cuts go through, DHS has not yet committed to finishing funding the program for current participants, even though they provide the majority of the program‟s funding. Program participants say they will be in limbo if the program ends. “Right now, if the Advantage program ended I‟d be s--t out of luck,” says Shondra Rushmore, who began receiving Work Advantage in April after 16 months in the shelter system. “I was too functional for other types of assistance, and this was my only option.” She is happy with her studio apartment in Flatbush. “I really lucked out. It‟s a quiet building in a great neighborhood.” Wilibert Hawks has received the Fixed Income Advantage program for a year, and lobbied in Albany Wednesday to keep the program. If the Advantage program was canceled he says, “it would be like the rug was pulled from underneath me. I was in the shelters for six years, and I don‟t want to go back.” DHS states that 91 percent of people who completed two years of the Advantage program had not returned to the shelters two years later. “The program is structured to give people time to adjust to the community, establish roots in the community. We prepare people to live without the rent subsidy,” Diamond says. “It‟s very tough when you begin to work, and we support them.” Questions about effectiveness But the Coalition for the Homeless issued a blistering report in February that questioned DHS‟s numbers. Using DHS‟s data, the report states that 25 percent of people who first enrolled in Work Advantage have already returned to the shelters, and one out of three former participants have applied for emergency shelter. Unlike DHS‟s numbers, Coalition for the Homeless counts people who dropped out of the Advantage program for a variety of reasons, including untenable living situations, such as landlords that overcharge on utilities and apartments infested with vermin. Says Patrick Markee, the Coalition's senior policy analyst: “The fact that they‟re only counting people who completed the program is like a high school that says, „100 percent of our students graduate from high school, but we‟re only talking about students who make it up to senior year.‟” A recent audit by the City Comptroller and an October report by the Public Advocate also cited flaws in the program. The Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness said in its fall 2010 report on programs nationwide: “While DHS claims success and a low recidivism rate, Advantage has yet to be proven effective. There is a lack of publicly available information both on the adherence to program requirements and regarding the number of families returning to the city for prevention assistance or shelter after receiving an Advantage subsidy.” Despite these criticisms, ICPH is opposed to Cuomo's cuts to Advantage. A spokeswoman says that "a program is better than none at all," adding that Advantage "merely needs to be tweaked." Christy Parque, executive director of Homeless Services United, said she suspects the real numbers lie somewhere in between the Coalition's critique and the agency's claims. “What‟s most important to the providers is to find out why people are coming back into shelter,” she says. “The Advantage subsidy program, while needing improvement, has offered people a lifeline.” Parque supports Palma‟s bill, which would require DHS to better divulge data as to the demographics of people going back into the shelter, as well as what percentage of Advantage graduates are paying rent as opposed to couch surfing and relying on the goodwill of family and friends. DHS does not support the bill. The governor has framed the budget cut as a reaction to fiscal pressure, not any concerns about the performance of the program. Morris Peters, a spokesperson for Gov. Cuomo, tells City Limits, “We‟re not going to make any statements about the merits of the program. In light of New York‟s significant fiscal challenges, the state simply can no longer afford to participate in this supplemental program. If the city wants to continue funding it, it may of course continue to do so.” Same program, different progress Johnetta Goodlow and Linda Cresswell both have been in the Work Advantage program for almost two years, in apartments on Staten Island. Neither of them like Staten Island, but it was the best they could afford on Advantage‟s budget. “Staten Island is different than the other four boroughs. They‟re a little behind the times. They really celebrate the 70s and 80s,” says Cresswell. She says she felt urgency to get out of the shelters, so took the first apartment she could find. Both have had problems with their landlords. “There are a lot of scammers. Landlords want you to pay money up front. It‟s very hard to find a place. Mostly you end up living in people‟s basements,” Goodlow says. Cresswell took her landlord to small claims court after being overcharged for electricity. The difference is that Goodlow has maintained her job as a care worker for the mentally disabled, and says between that and her savings from the past two years, she‟ll be able to stay her in apartment. “[Advantage] helped me out, because I was able to save money,” says Goodlow, who originally entered the shelters after breaking up with an abusive boyfriend, and is also a member of the advocacy group Community Voices Heard. “If I had to come up with the money and pay the rent and buy food it would have been a huge struggle.” But Cresswell lost her job doing clerical work at an AARP office—the job was for people making less than $15,000, and once she started getting Social Security benefits, she no longer qualified. “I‟ll probably be back in the shelters when this is over,” she says. “I think Work Advantage is good because it gets you out of the shelter, but you can‟t find employment to sustain you for full market rent. If the city could help us get into affordable housing that would be better.” What other options? Coalition for the Homeless opposes Advantage because, as a temporary program, it doesn‟t provide a permanent solution to homelessness. In addition, it cuts off families after two years regardless of their situation or housing needs. The organization also opposes tying of Work Advantage to employment, which excludes the majority of homeless people. Markee says there are more than 5,000 public housing apartments available for rent each year, and that policy changes being debated in Congress could provide the city with more Section 8 vouchers. Coalition for the Homeless criticizes the Bloomberg administration for its 2004 decision to stop prioritizing homeless families in shelters for Section 8 vouchers. “The Bloomberg administration continues to run this program that is demonstrably a failure when they have other options available to them,” Markee says. “Why should taxpayer dollars go into this?” Diamond, however, says the program has the requirement that eligible people work and pay a share of their incomes not because of a desire to keep people out of shelters but because, “it sends the right message." "It‟s very tough when you begin to work, but people work hard and fight hard," he says. What's more, DHS says there are not enough alternate funding streams to house the 15,000 families that currently use Advantage funding, so even if Markee‟s proposals were implemented by the city, the shelter population would rise at least in the short term if Advantage were ended. That‟s why many groups that serve the homeless are opposing cuts to the program. “Work Advantage has some flaws,” said Mark Hurwitz, deputy director of Project Renewal. “But it‟s unthinkable to get rid of the program without improving it or replacing it with something better." _____________________________________________________________________________ NYC Homeless Services Commissioner On Threat To Advantage Shelter Program: "Devastating" Celeste Katz, New York Daily News Blog March 11, 2011 Mayor Bloomberg brought Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond on his WOR-AM radio show this morning to drive home their point about the loss of state funds for the Advantage homeless program, notes our Adam Lisberg. As our Tina Moore reported exclusively this week (and it's worth reading her entire story, which I include below, about the program and the families it impacts), "20,000 families have participated in Advantage since it began in 2007. Some 13,000 are still in it, but Bloomberg plans to kill the program to help close the city's budget gap." Said Diamond on the John Gambling-hosted show: "The state budget proposes eliminating it, and that would have a devastating impact on our city's shelter families. Advantage has been a very successful rental subsidy program. ... This will cause the shelter system to back up. We may have to build 70 new shelters throughout the city to accommodate all the people that won't be able to move... If we don't have Advantage, we'll end up paying $80 million more than what it costs us with the program." ______________________________________________________________________________ NYC's homeless program threatened by budget cuts Associated Press March 11, 2011 New York City says a program that helps keep thousands of homeless off the streets will not be able to accept new applicants due to state budget cuts. The Advantage rental subsidy program allows people who find stable jobs to leave homeless shelters by providing housing subsidies for up to two years. Seth Diamond, the commissioner of homeless services, says the city would have to build 70 new shelters if the program is eliminated. Diamond says the program will not be able to accept new applicants after Monday. It will not affect people already in the program. According to The New York Times, the governor‟s spokesman said in a statement that regardless of the anticipated cuts, the city has the funds to continue the program. ______________________________________________________________________________ Blaming State, City Halts Housing Program for Homeless By Cindy Rodriguez , WNYC Radio March 11, 2011 The city is halting its only program for moving homeless families and single adults from shelters into permanent apartments and they're blaming the stoppage on state budget cuts. The Advantage program provides a two-year rental subsidy. Nearly all shelter residents rely on it to find permanent places to live. As of Monday, no new leases will be signed, according to the city. In addition, 15,000 families already using the voucher will have their rental assistance end come April. The Department of Homeless Services predicted dire consequences: a 51 percent increase in the shelter population by June of 2012 and the need for 70 new shelters within the coming months. Seth Diamond, Commissioner of Homeless Services, said with no commitment to restore funds, the city had no choice: "There simply is no money. We didn't do it earlier because then maybe people might have said it was a tactic." The city reported the housing voucher costs $140 million per year -- $48 million of which comes from the city and the rest comes from the state and federal government. The state disputed those numbers and maintains that if the program were a priority the city would use other funding streams, such as federal welfare money to keep it running. Diamond said there is no other money other than what's already allocated and that would have to go toward opening new shelters. In a written statement, Joshua Vlasto, a spokesman for Governor Andrew Cuomo said, "In the midst of a budget process, it is counterproductive and disingenuous to announce a crisis of the day." Programs charged with helping homeless families move out of shelters were notified of the voucher stoppage Friday. Scott Cotinoff from Partnership for the Homeless runs one of these programs and said whether this is politics are not, "it will have a real impact on people's lives." ______________________________________________________________________________ State Cuts Would Force Thousands Into Homeless Shelters, Mayor Says By Jill Colvin, DNA Info March 11, 2011 Mayor Bloomberg said the city may need to build 70 new homeless shelters to make up for cuts to state aid. Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned Friday that state cuts to homeless programs could force the city to build 70 new shelters to provide housing for those who would no longer receive rental subsidies. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed state budget eliminates funding for the city's Work Advantage program, which gives the working homeless rental subsidies so they can move out of shelters and into their own homes. Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond, who joined the mayor on his weekly radio sit- down with WOR's John Gambling, warned that eliminating the program would have "a devastating impact on our city's shelter families" and would force the city to spend tens of millions of dollars to build dozens of new shelters. There are currently 15,000 people participating in the program and 3,000 who are qualified to join, whose benefits would be "yanked from their hands," Diamond said. "This will cause the shelter system to back up. We may have to build 70 new shelters thorough the city," Diamond said, putting the cost to the city at $80 million dollars. But minutes after touting the benefits of helping the homeless transition into jobs and homes, the mayor slammed a proposal to force developers who receive city subsidies to pay workers a so- called living wage, which many peg at at least $10 an hour — significantly higher than minimum wage. "When government tries to get involved and force the economics to something that the market won't tolerate, it's the Soviet Union. That didn't work out very well in case you haven't read your history recently," he said. Reading Michael Bloomberg's Economics By Azi Paybarah, NY Observer Politicker March 11, 2011 Jill Colvin tries capturing the complexity of Michael Bloomberg's economic policies. On his weekly radio show, Bloomberg and his commissioner for homeless services warned about the impacts of proposed cuts from Albany. "This will cause the shelter system to back up. We may have to build 70 new shelters thorough the city," [Comissioner Seth] Diamond said, putting the cost to the city at $80 million dollars. But minutes after touting the benefits of helping the homeless transition into jobs and homes, the mayor slammed a proposal to force developers who receive city subsidies to pay workers a so- called living wage, which many peg at at least $10 an hour — significantly higher than minimum wage. "When government tries to get involved and force the economics to something that the market won't tolerate, it's the Soviet Union. That didn't work out very well in case you haven't read your history recently," he said. Labor operative Dan Morris piles on, emailing me to say Bloomberg, "supports government intervention into the market when it means large tax breaks and subsidies for large companies and developers." In short, they suggest there's something inconsistent: supporting the government when they help people get out of poverty, but opposing the government when they mandate the private sector do likewise. School Cuts Loom Large Over Five-Way Albany Budget Meeting NY1 March 17, 2011 After Governor Andrew Cuomo and four legislative leaders met behind closed doors in Albany Thursday to discuss the state budget, there remain unquestioned answers over whether some education funding will be restored. In their private meeting, Cuomo, State Senate leaders Dean Skelos and John Sampson and State Assembly leaders Sheldon Silver and Brian Kolb discussed topics ranging from Medicaid reform to prison closures, but funding cuts to schools remain one of the largest points of contention in the budget process. The governor proposed $1.5 billion in cuts to state education funding, and city schools may lose up to $580 million in state aid. School districts and advocacy groups have warned that cuts will lead to fewer programs and teacher layoffs. Both the State Senate and Assembly have proposed restoring between $260 million to $467 million to schools, but the governor said he will only negotiate for much smaller budget restorations. "This state government is going to take a 10 percent reduction. Ten percent reduction, and we're asking the schools to take a 2.7 percent cut," said Cuomo. "'Well they're gonna hurt the children.' Manage the school system, reduce the waste, the fraud, the abuse. 'Well, we don't have any.' I don't believe it." Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Cathie Black have been among the most vocal, saying the proposed cuts contributed to their decision to eliminate 6,000 city teaching jobs. When asked about the controversial "last in, first out" policy for teacher layoffs, the governor pledged to work toward an agreement with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and teachers' unions. While the governor‟s office says Cuomo wasn‟t necessarily referring to Mayor Bloomberg‟s warnings, the state budget director has repeatedly said the city has reserves it could tap into. “Find an efficiency like every other family in this state has had to find an efficiency, like every other business in this state has had to find an efficiency," Cuomo said. On Thursday, the Cuomo Administration again told the city to stop crying wolf after city officials told participants in its Advantage Rental Program that $90 million worth of state and federal funding cuts are forcing them to halt the service, which provides rental assistance to 20,000 families moving out of emergency shelters. “We waited until the last possible minute to this because we were hopeful that the governor and legislative leaders would see to it to fund the program," said New York City Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond. In a statement, the governor‟s spokesman, Josh Vlasto, argued the city has the money to support the program if it chooses to, saying, "New York City seems intent on manufacturing a crisis and endangering thousands of New Yorkers to benefit its own economic and political interest." "The governor's office is creating the crisis. This is totally unnecessary," countered Diamond. "The majority of the funding for Advantage comes from state and federal sources. It does not come from the city." The rent subsidy would end on April 1, the same day the budget is due. City Warns 15,000 Formerly Homeless That End to Rent Subsidies Is Near Thursday, March 17, 2011 By WNYC Newsroom New York City is telling more than 15,000 formerly homeless individuals and families that they should not expect government to help with their rent starting in two weeks. The Bloomberg administration said state budget cuts are forcing it to cancel the Advantage program. The subsidies help the homeless leave shelters once they've found jobs. The Department of Homeless Services estimates that 4,400 families will be forced back into shelters as a result of the cuts. A spokesman for Governor Andrew Cuomo said the city could pay for the program if it wanted to. He says the city "seems intent on manufacturing a crisis and endangering thousands of New Yorkers." Budget cuts slash program for homeless families By Jeff Pegues, WABC March 17, 2011 Thousands of New Yorkers, once homeless, could soon be homeless again. The city says it will no longer subsidize housing for more than 15,000 families. Budget cuts are the reason. The city's blaming the state. The state's blaming the city. Erica Rivera, 27, says she's angry and scared just hours after learning that funding for a program that helps put a roof over her head could be cut. We asked her what she is going to do for the next month. Rviera said, "Struggle, struggle once again and pray that I don't end up back in a shelter." It's called "The Advantage Program" and it helps city families go from homeless to living in an apartment. Families work and pay 30 to 40 percent of their income toward rent with the city footing the bill for the rest, with money from the state. It can last for one or two years. But now the governor's current budget proposal doesn't include money for the program. And without state dollars, the commissioner of the City Department of Homeless Services says he has no choice but to shut the program down. "The city just can't afford it in these difficult budget times," said Seth Diamond, Commissioner of Dept. Of Homeless Services. But critics of the city's decision accuse the Bloomberg administration of playing politics. "The mayor should not be fear mongering. This is a time to have serious discussions about solutions to this problem," said Patrick Markee from the Coalition for the Homeless. A spokesman for the governor's office called the City's decision "premature" saying, "New York City seems intent on manufacturing a crisis and endangering thousands of New Yorkers to benefit its own economic and political interest." NYC will end rental assistance program in April By Erik Ortiz, AM NY March 18, 2011 Beginning April 1, New York City will stop paying the rent for more than 15,000 families who were once homeless, city officials said Thursday. The reason: The end of state aid, which the city Department of Homeless Services said was crucial in keeping the $140 million Advantage program afloat. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is planning to cut funding for Advantage under his fiscal year 2011-12 budget. In a letter sent to the state Thursday, the commissioners of DHS and the Human Resources Administration said the city cannot shoulder the entire cost of the program without state and federal money. But a spokesman for the governor contends the city can choose to fund the program on its own if necessary. Advantage started in 2007 and has assisted more than 20,000 domestic violence and homeless New Yorkers move from shelters to actual housing, city officials said. Without the program, the DHS estimates the city will have to deal with an increase in shelter costs and people who may become homeless again. That could cost the city, state and federal governments another $80 million more than simply keeping Advantage intact, the city estimates. On Tuesday, amNewYork reported that some landlords who receive money through Advantage were having tenants live in poor housing conditions, according to the public advocate's office. NYC: 15,000 ex-homeless families losing rent help Associated Press March 17, 2011 NEW YORK — New York City sent letters to more than 15,000 individuals and families on Thursday warning them they could no longer expect the government rent subsidy that helped them move out of homeless shelters. Officials said they believed the cuts would force 4,400 families back into the shelter system. The city blamed the move on proposed state budget cuts that are set to slice tens of millions of dollars from the program, but opponents accused the city of playing fast with the lives of its most vulnerable residents, canceling a program that has drawn mixed reviews, in a bid to spark pressure on state officials to restore the funds ahead of an April 1 budget deadline. Told that she might lose the $1,000 monthly payment that's keeping her and her 2-year-old son in their Bronx apartment, Lizmarie Rodriguez said she didn't think she'd be able to pay her rent. She doesn't want to go back to the shelters, where she spent nine months even though she had a job. The 22-year-old felt unsafe there, she said, fending off vermin and bedbugs as she took care of her baby. Her Advantage-funded Bronx apartment, by comparison, is a haven, where she lets little Christopher ride a small tricycle in the unfurnished living room. "What's going to happen with us?" she asked Thursday. "I don't know what we're going to do. Where we're going to go." The Coalition for the Homeless said it would sue in court to prevent the city from stopping payments for Rodriguez and the thousands of others who are already in the program, which provides rent subsidies for up to two years to homeless people who have secured jobs. Most of the participants work about 30 hours a week for about $9 an hour — not enough to cover their rents alone, said coalition spokesman Patrick Markee. "It will be difficult, certainly for families, particularly those who recently left shelter, to maintain their apartments," said city Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond. "The premise of the program is it gives people time to grow into their apartments and have their income grow and maintain stability. So that is very troubling and of great concern." While the clock for final budget negotiations between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature is ticking down, proposals from both sides in Albany call for cuts to the program. The city says it stands to lose $92 million in state and federal money because of the cuts, and it expects the increased needs of the community served by the $140 million Advantage program to cost the city $34 million more than what it was already spending. The state disagrees with those numbers, and says the city would lose a combined $68 million in state and federal funds. The city says it anticipates that without the program, the city's homeless family population will increase by 51 percent and the city will have to build an additional 70 shelters. State and federal costs will rise as well, the city claims. Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto argued that the city could afford to keep the program if it wished to. "New York City seems intent on manufacturing a crisis and endangering thousands of New Yorkers to benefit its own economic and political interest. ... Regardless of this year's anticipated cuts, New York City has the funds to support the continuation of this program if it so chooses," he said in a statement. Diamond shot back: "The state is the one that has developed the crisis. ... We had no choice but to take this action at this time." Advocates for the homeless have long found the Advantage program problematic, saying that it places people in apartments they won't be able to afford in the long term and in some cases delivers participants right back into the shelters. While the Coalition for the Homeless is fighting to keep the city from cutting off payments to those already in apartments, Markee says getting rid of the program is the right thing to do. "The Advantage program is a revolving door back into homelessness for thousands of children and families," said Markee. "There have been (City) Council hearings, there have been studies: The program is not working." One out of three families that were in Advantage and then lost their rental assistance have applied for shelter, Markee said, noting that many participants don't make it through the entire program. Meanwhile, the city calls the program a success and says 90 percent of families that complete two years in Advantage remain out of the shelter system one to two years after the program has ended. Some advocates express concerns about the state of the buildings used in the Advantage program as well. Rodriguez's apartment, for example, has been named one of the worst buildings in the city by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, with inspectors finding lead paint, crumbling plaster and, at times, no heat. Without Advantage in place, the city will have no program to move families out of the shelters, and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs said there is no replacement program on the horizon. "Without the state's and federal support, we'll have nothing for them," she said. "So the only consequence is that there's going to be a lot more homeless families and we're going to need a lot more shelters." NYC: 15,000 Ex-Homeless Families Losing Rent Help Foxny.com March 18, 2011 NEW YORK - New York City is notifying more than 15,000 formerly homeless individuals and families that they shouldn't expect government help with their rent starting in two weeks. Advantage tenants are required to contribute a fixed portion of their income toward the monthly cost of rent and the program covers the remainder of the payments. The city's Department of Homeless Services says state budget cuts are forcing it to cancel the program. Advocates say most families that stand to lose the subsidy can't afford to stay in their apartments. DHS says Thursday it expects the cuts will force an estimated 13,000 additional families into shelters by June and expand the overall family shelter population by 50 percent. Gov. Andrew Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto argues the city could pay for the program if it wanted to. He says the city "seems intent on manufacturing a crisis and endangering thousands of New Yorkers." But the DHS claims that any savings from cutting the program will be swamped by the additional $80 million needed for shelter and related programs. Last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a $132.9 billion budget for New York State that slashes many services in an effort to close a huge budget gap. DHS says that is state funding is restored, the program will be restarted. Since its inception in April 2007, 20,272 families have exited shelter with Advantage. City May Face Increase in Homeless Costs, Report Says Javier Hernandez, City Room-NY Times Blog March 18, 2011 Spending on homeless shelters in New York City could increase by up to 66 percent next year because of the elimination of a generous rental voucher program for poor families, according to a report by the city‟s Independent Budget Office released on Friday. The city decided to end the program, known as Advantage, last week because of state budget cuts. As a result, many of the 15,000 families that depended on the program for rental subsidies will probably be forced to return to shelter. The budget office said that if 70 percent of families fall back into the system, spending on shelters would increase by $455 million next year. The city, state and federal government share shelter costs. “It is both unconscionable and unacceptable that this program is set to be eliminated without any safety nets in place,” said Annabel Palma, chair of the City Council‟s General Welfare Committee. The Department of Homeless Services has said the elimination of the Advantage program was necessary because the city could not afford to pay for the program without help from the state. In a statement, the Department of Homeless Services said it agreed with Ms. Palma but directed blame at Albany. “The state should not have abruptly backed out of its commitment to fund Advantage with no plan for the 15,000 households already in the program and the thousands of shelter families who were counting on the subsidy,” said Barbara Brancaccio, a deputy commissioner. State officials have accused the city of “manufacturing a crisis” and argue that the city has the funds to pay for the program on its own. The 61-page report by the budget office looked in depth at Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg‟s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The budget office projected that spending on charter schools would increase by $139 million next year, even as the school system as a whole faces cuts. Indeed, spending on charter schools has increased significantly, from $165 million in 2007 to an estimated $711 million next year, as enrollment has grown and per-pupil funding has increased. Over all, the budget office said the city was in relatively good shape but cautioned that New York “continues to face economic and budget challenges.” The city has regained nearly half of the 131,700 private-sector jobs lost during the recession, but many do not pay as well as the jobs that were lost. The report said that even with Mr. Bloomberg‟s proposed cuts and an infusion of money from Albany, the city could still face a shortfall of $195 million next year. Formerly Homeless Families Worry About Loss of Housing Voucher Cindy Rodriguez, WNYC Radio March 18, 2011 The decision by the city to halt housing vouchers for the formerly homeless has some worried they could end up back in a city shelter. On Thursday, the city announced it was notifying 15,000 households — most of them families with children — that there will be no more rental subsidies starting on April 1. The Department of Homeless Services said it had no other choice given the state's decision to defund the housing program called Advantage. Natalie Rizzo and her 11-year-old son have been in the program just over a year. "A lot of people are getting back on their feet with this program, and I'm actually one of them," Rizzo said. The single mother said she works part time and is close to receiving a teaching certificate that will allow her to work as a teacher's assistant. If she loses her housing subsidy she said she'll need to quit school to get a full time job that will pay enough to cover the full rent. Rizzo said she's trying not to stress out about the loss of her rent subsidy. "Even though inside and at night I toss and turn,' she said. "I don't get sleep thinking about what's going to be the next move for me." Nelson Maldonado is also worried about what losing his housing subsidy would mean for him and his young son. Maldonado said his job as a maintenance instructor doesn't pay enough to cover his rent because the hours change from week to week. He worries about ending up back in shelter. "I don't have anywhere else to go," he said. "I've actually been doing a lot of work in the apartment. ... And I'm going to stop even doing that because I may not be there very long." The city said the $140 million program is impossible to sustain without the state money and the federal matching funds that come with it. A spokesman for Governor Andrew Cuomo said the city could pay for the program if it wanted to. "The city seems intent on manufacturing a crisis and endangering thousands of New Yorkers," the spokesman, Josh Vlasto, said. Seth Diamond, Commissioner for the Department of Homeless Services countered that claim. "The state budget has created the crisis that may now prove devastating for our city's homeless families," he said. A group that advocates on behalf of shelter providers said it was shocked by the city's decision to halt the housing subsidies. In a written statement, Christy Parque from Homeless Services United said, "The failure of the city and the state to come to a resolution on the budget has lead to a game of political chicken in which the homeless and formerly homeless will suffer the consequences." Coalition for the Homeless, another advocacy group, said it's working with Legal Aid to seek an injunction to stop the city from terminating subsidies for current recipients. The organization has been critical of the Advantage program because it argues the subsidy doesn't give families enough time to get back on their feet. It typically lasts two years. "Even though the program is a failure, a promise is a promise, and there's no question the city has a legal commitment to continue paying those rent subsidies," policy analyst Patrick Markee said. According to Marquee, 26 percent of families who use the Advantage voucher end up back in the shelter. The city disputes those numbers and says the number is more like 10 percent. The Advantage housing program was created by the Bloomberg Administration around 2007. According to the city, 20,000 households have used the voucher to move out of shelter and into permanent apartments. The city is predicting that without the housing subsidy there will be a 51 percent increase in the shelter population and the need for 70 new shelters by next summer. Budget Cuts To 'Advantage' Program Leave New York City Homeless In The Lurch The Huffington Post March 20, 2011 Recent budget cuts to a New York City program that helps families get out of homeless shelters and into apartments have sparked controversy, starting a blame game between the city and the state, and leaving the fate of 15,000 families and their homes up in the air. The Associated Press reported that the city sent letters to participants in the Department of Homeless Services' Advantage program, informing them that they could no longer expect it to subsidize their housing. The program had assisted homeless families by allowing them to move out of the shelters and work, paying 30 to 40 percent of their income toward rent, with the city paying the remainder (for one to two years) with money from the state. But without money from the state, the city says that it has no choice but to discontinue the program -- a move that, according to city officials, would force 4,400 families back into the shelter system. According to the Department of Homeless Services' website, the program's termination is immediate -- new lease signings were halted on Monday, and the site states that "there will be no rent payments by the City on April 1, 2011." AP quotes Department Commissioner Seth Diamond on how these families will cope: "It will be difficult, certainly for families, particularly those who recently left shelter, to maintain their apartments," said Diamond. "The premise of the program is it gives people time to grow into their apartments and have their income grow and maintain stability. So that is very troubling and of great concern." What has ensued since the announcement has been a blame game between the city and state, with the city citing proposed state budget cuts as the reason for the program's cancellation, and opponents accusing the city of gambling its homeless residents' welfare to put pressure on state officials to restore the funds. The efficacy of the program has also been called into question, with the city and the Coalition for the Homeless (which vowed to sue in court to prevent the city from stopping payments) posting different statistics on the program's success. Only one thing is clear -- without Advantage in place, the city will have no program to move families out of the shelters, meaning a lot more homeless families needing space in a shelter. Without the program, the city says it anticipates the homeless family population will increase by 51 percent and the city will have to build an additional 70 shelters. According to a blog on the New York Times website, the city may be looking at up to a 66 percent increase in spending on homeless shelters. Advantage rental voucher program could be victim of NY budget battle By Daniel Beekman, Daily News March 24, 2011 Last August, after more than a year of struggle, Fantausha Nelson of Morris Heights climbed out of homelessness. Her daughters got their own bedroom and Nelson found a new job. Now her family could be headed back to the shelter system, because of a budget battle between Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg. In response to a proposed state budget cut, the city has abruptly ended its Advantage rental voucher program for poor households, and 45,000 people will probably end up homeless again. The city Department of Homeless Services broke the news to 15,000 households by mail last weekend, panicking Advantage renters in the Bronx's poorest neighborhoods. "I just got my life together," said Nelson, 23. "Now I don't know what's going to happen." DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond said Cuomo plans to slash the state's $65 million annual contribution and $27 million in related federal funds, and has faced little heat from state legislators. "There is nothing stopping the city from continuing to support this program," said Jeffrey Gordon, Cuomo budget spokesman. But last week, the city withdrew its $48 million share. DHS has stopped signing Advantage leases and won't cut rent checks unless Cuomo changes his mind. His budget is due April 1. Advocates, including City Councilwoman Annabel Palma (D-Bronx), are blasting the cuts. Her General Welfare Committee reviews the decision today. "Eliminating a program that working families rely on...is simply not responsible," she said. But critics hope Cuomo's cut forces the city to adopt a new housing policy. "We don't support restoring funding for a program that's a failure," said Patrick Markee of Coalition for the Homeless. The program pays $1,100 a month toward rent for working people, lasting up to two years. It's supposed to keep them out of the shelter system, which costs taxpayers $3,000 a month per family. Diamond said 90% of people who complete the program don't become homeless again right away. But half of the thousands who leave the program wind up on another housing subsidy or reapply for shelter. Markee said the city should rely on federal programs, Section 8 vouchers and public housing. But Diamond warned that ending Advantage will force the city to build 70 new shelters. State Budget's First Victim? NYC's Homeless Families! The Gothamist March 24, 2011 Governor Cuomo may be warning of a government shutdown if a budget (preferably his) is not passed by April Fools, but his budget proposal has already effectively shutdown Advantage, a city program intended to reduce homelessness. The program—which helped 15,000 households with working family members by subsidizing up to $1,100 a month toward rent for up to two years (in comparison, paying to put a family in the shelter system for a month costs about $3,000)—was four years old. A FAQ on the homepage of the city's Department of Homeless Service website explains the situation like this: "The proposed State Budget withdraws all federal and state support for the program which terminates the City‟s authority and fiscal ability to run the Advantage program. The City strongly disagrees with the State‟s decision." The city says the budget for the Advantage program is $140 million (of which the state pays $65, the feds pay $27 and the city pays $48) while the state claims the program only costs $103 million and thinks the city is bluffing about the funds—earlier in the month a Cuomo aide told the Times "The reality is that, regardless of this year‟s anticipated cuts, New York City has the funds to support the continuation of this program if it so chooses." And Cuomo's people aren't the only ones saying the city isn't quite telling the truth. Whatever the case, the program appears to be dunzo. Advantage stopped accepting new applicants and signing leases earlier in the month and has now announced that it won't be sending out rent subsidies for the month of April. Which means 15,000 families which have only recently been able to get themselves off of the streets and into their own homes will be scrambling to pay rents that they thought were already covered. Not that everyone is mourning the end of the program. The Coalition for the Homeless has a pretty strong argument that the "failed" program should be scrapped and replaced with a less costly system in which homeless families targeted for federal housing assistance (possibly along with a dramatically reformed Advantage program). Don't Play Politics with Homeless Families Liz Krueger, NY State Senator- Huffington Post March 25, 2011 Albany and City Hall are engaged in a high-stakes game of chicken, and thousands of homeless families are trapped in the middle. Every spring, as we debate the tough choices that inevitably must be made to balance our budget, we hear from thousands of New Yorkers, non-profits and mayors -- from cities big and small -- who warn of the consequences of cutting the State programs they rely on. Often, they are right. My colleagues and I have fought hard to restore cuts to schools, healthcare and services for the disabled, the elderly and other vulnerable groups. But not every program Albany funds is a winner. Some, like New York City's "Advantage" program for homeless New Yorkers, are ineffective and a poor use of our limited resources. Advantage aims to move families out of the shelter system and into their own apartments -- a crucial and important goal. But its bureaucratic rules and rigid cutoff dates have resulted in many people who enter the program, ending up back on the streets or returning to the City's overcrowded homeless shelters. This winter, the City's own data confirmed that one-third of those who left the program ended up homeless again. In short, the program simply isn't working. The program has been paid for through a mix of City and State funds, but this year Governor Cuomo made the hard choice to end the State's portion of that funding. In response, Mayor Bloomberg has threatened to end the program completely and immediately, even pulling the rug out from those who are currently utilizing the services. The City's Department of Homeless Services has even sent letters to the 15,000 households currently enrolled in the Advantage program, notifying them that their subsidy would be terminated, leaving many to fear that they could be back out on the streets in just a few months. This unnecessary, alarmist response serves no purpose other than to make headlines. As state officials and homeless policy experts have argued, New York City can responsibly phase out the failed Advantage program and return to alternative programs that we know work, like moving qualified families into Federal housing programs, such as public housing and Section 8. That was the proven approach used by the City for decades (even under Mayor Giuliani!), and that has helped thousands of families move into permanent, affordable homes and restart their lives. But as of now, Mayor Bloomberg and the City have not proposed an alternative solution, instead they have simply said it's either this program or none at all. I see no sense in that. The Coalition for the Homeless, New York's leading voice for sensible, effective homelessness policy, has launched an online letter writing campaign, calling on the Mayor to stop the scare tactics and go back to the cost effective programs that we know can reduce family homelessness. Join me and send your letter to Mayor Bloomberg online. New York State Plans To Cut All Funds That Support The Homeless Youth in New York By Sean Wrench, Huffington Post March 25, 2011 Parents, we tuck our children in safely each night, giving them a kiss on their forehead, saying "sweet dreams" and telling them how much we love them. Some of us do this each night and rarely think of children without a parent, without a kiss, or without a place to sleep. However, the grim reality is that there are millions of homeless American children. On April 1 Governor Cuomo plans to cut all funding for programs in New York State working to house and support homeless children and youth, potentially sending thousands of children back onto the streets. We want the people of New York State to stop Governor Cuomo from cutting funds that house, support, and advocate for our homeless children and youth. The United States has over 1.5 million homeless children, some studies suggest up to as many as 2.8 million. According to The National Center on Family Homelessness, New York State is currently ranked the 12th worst state in the nation with over 45,000 homeless youth, over 18,000 of those under the age of 6. The state is plagued with inadequate policy and planning efforts as it relates to child homelessness. While Cuomo intends to cut the funding going to these organizations there is a major need to increase it. Not only is it un-American, but it's inhumane to sit back and watch these children be thrown back onto the streets with little to no support. It is critical to act now, every voice matters. New York State has funded programs through the Runaway Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) since 1978. Funding has provided youth shelters, outreach, crisis intervention, case management, basic needs such as food and clothing and many other services for homeless youth across the state. In 2007, the state was supporting services for approximately 70 programs with an appropriation of $6.8 million. Between 2007 and 2010, the amount was reduced 30 percent due to state budget problems, to the current $4.7 million. "It is not possible to cut any further and still maintain safe services. Programs are already turning away the increasing number of youth who are ending up homeless," says Margo Hirsch, Executive Director at the Empire State Coalition. "Governor Andrew Cuomo recently took office and he is already poised to make one of the most disastrous political decisions in New York State history," said Aaron Wrench, Operations Director for Forsaken Generation. In the proposed budget expected to be finalized by April 1, 2011 the Governor has proposed all funding to the RHYA (Runaway Homeless Youth Act) to be cut. The NYS Assembly and Senate have passed a budget slashing 50% to the RHYA which would reduce funding to $2.4 million, but if Governor Cuomo has his way, all of the funding will be cut. These cuts will throw thousands of New York children out onto the streets robbing them of shelter beds and a chance at rebuilding their lives. A study done by the United States Justice Department stated that 1 in 3 homeless teens that are on the street will be forced into prostitution within only 48 hours. If these cuts are made and children are forced back out onto the streets, the results will be catastrophic. Since the funding has been provided through the RHYA, it has enabled the identification, assistance, housing, and stabilization of tens of thousands of homeless children each year. "These programs turn young people's lives around by providing shelter; re-connecting them with family, where appropriate; teaching them how to live independently; connecting them with education and employment; and overall fostering their growth at becoming successful adults," said Andrew Peters, Associate Executive Director for the Long Island Crisis Center. New York should be a model for opportunity and a place where the people and the government support one another to succeed in life and to be responsible citizens. To cut all funding to these programs can potentially have grave consequences. Children that are forced to the streets are at extremely high risk of sexual exploitation, violence, drug abuse, health risks, as well as significant educational challenges. Over the summer of 2010, a shelter in Brooklyn, New York took in two 12-year-old twin boys, Brad and John, with a plan of placing them together in the foster care system. Their home situation was unsafe and the shelter system was the only option for keeping them together. Throughout the thirty days that Brad and John stayed at the shelter they ate a well balanced diet, showed signs of improved health through regular physical activity, improved their education levels through the summer tutoring program, and both learned to swim through staff instruction. "For the twins, the shelter was the only place they could safely go until their long-term living situation could be stabilized. It was a much needed oasis in the desert of turmoil that was their lives," said Margo Hirsch. Leah, who was fourteen years old upon entering a shelter, was an abused child who was being hurt almost daily. "I had no one to turn to, no one would listen, and no safe place to go," says Leah. Through a community member she had met, Leah found a shelter that she could call home. A safe, caring place where there was no worry of abuse. Leah said that, "for the first time in my life, I realize that not everyone is out to hurt me." Leah, Brad and John are just a few out of thousands of young people who will be impacted by the decision of New York State to make drastic budget cuts designed to help homeless children. Time is of the essence since a budget could be finalized within a matter of days. As residents of New York State you can voice your opposition to these proposed cuts. We urge you to please contact the following people. Please call the officials below to voice your disapproval: - Governor Andrew Cuomo (518) 474-8390 - Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (518) 455-3791 - Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (518) 455-3171 - Senator Joseph Robach (877) 854-2687 You can also visit www.forsakengeneration.com/actnow and follow the links to also contact these representatives via an online contact form. You will also find Twitter and Facebook links to some of these representatives as well. We encourage you to communicate with them in every way possible. New York's Homeless Left Behind in Governor's Budget By Bonnie Stone, Huffington Post March 28, 2011 You see a good deal of hardship being a homeless services provider, but the look of joy you see when a client walks into their own apartment for the first time after living in shelter is unparalleled. The Advantage rental subsidy program gives clients independence and a home of their own. Today, Governor Cuomo's promised elimination of the Advantage program threatens the homes of 15,000 households established in the community and invalidates thousands of those who currently hold vouchers. Without Advantage as an option to move out of shelter, families will stay in shelter for longer periods of time. The City projects that the number of families with children will increase by half to over 13,000 by next summer. As President and CEO of Women In Need, a NYC non-profit, I can tell you that having more families in shelter is never something that we strive for, we want to see our families back on their own, succeeding as contributing neighbors and part of their communities. So the reality that eliminating Advantage will mean building 70 new shelters throughout New York City for this new population is overwhelming. Many of the 15,000 families who will have their rental subsidy discontinued by this budget cut are just starting to get re-established in the community and may be at risk of eviction. The reality is that moving families into permanent housing is less expensive than housing them in shelters. It is also far better for the families, giving them a permanent place to live and the opportunity for independence and self-sufficiency. Last year, Women In Need moved over 700 families into their own apartments and over 70 percent of them were housed because of the Advantage program. Without the state subsidy for this program, rental housing would be totally out of reach for our families. The Governor and his colleagues in Albany are not only hurting Advantage clients by eliminating the subsidy. Ending Advantage will cost taxpayers $80 million more in shelter and related programs. To fund these new costs, cuts will have to be made to other programs serving low-income New Yorkers. So, in sum, even more people will lose. Advantage truly is just that: a homeless family's advantage to start their independent life after shelter. We cannot take away this important assistance for working families and individuals. The advantage program is not perfect but it adds significant locally financed affordable housing for our families. For those who are willing to contribute and gainfully find a job and pay a portion of their income as they find their footing, we must partner with them as they fully get their feet under them again. It is imperative that the Governor reverse this cut or the legislature restore the funding. For 28 years, the City has maintained an incredible record of housing every single homeless person who needed help. Never before has the effort been placed at such risk. Are Federal Homeless Dollars Being Invested Into a Money Pit? By Joel John Roberts, Huffington Post March 28, 2011 Some conservative analysts are comparing the federal government's annual financial allotment for homeless services as an exercise in careless spending, similar to the 1980s movie, "The Money Pit." Remember Tom Hanks and Shelley Long buying that million dollar mansion only to find out that they had to pump in their life's savings to keep the residence from imploding? The Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced that the federal government spent $2.9 billion for federal homeless programs in 2009, a dollar amount typically allocated each year. In this season of a growing national budget deficit, where lawmakers are fighting over what sort of government spending cuts should be implemented, critics of homeless spending jumped on this GAO report. Three billion dollars per year, and homelessness continues to soar? Certainly the infrastructure to end homelessness is imploding, critics state. They say that with the national cost of building a home pegged at $200,000 per unit, 145,000 homes for the homeless could be built each year with this money. That is a lot of homes, a lot of housed homeless people. Is the government really using its dollars to end homelessness, or is this multi-billion dollar annual investment just another kind of pork-barrel scheme? Congressional leaders steer federal dollars back to their local jurisdictions to appease their constituents. Are national leaders investing dollars into homeless services in order to quiet homeless persons and their advocates? Sort of like developing countries handing out free rice and beans to their hungry and impoverished populace so they won't revolt. If you have encountered a homeless person along the road, at freeway off-ramps, or at the local outdoor mall, you know homelessness is not as simple as categorizing everyone as scraggly men reeking of alcohol, caked with dirt. You see former vets, women with children, and elderly men struggling with chronic diseases. Homelessness is a result of a broken social safety net in this country, a system that spews out homeless people on to the streets from the Department of Defense, Department of Social Services, prisons, mental and physical health institutions, and foster care programs. Throw in unemployment, spousal and child abuse, lack of any comprehensive health care system for any one living below middle class, and this country ends up with more than a million Americans on the street. (Some even think the number is more.) A multi-billion dollar housing development program implemented without social services to help those who are being housed would end up in hundreds of thousands of empty new homes. We have to address the issues of why a person became homeless as well as provide a home. Otherwise, building homes without services will end up in social foreclosure -- empty homes because people still struggle with their homeless-causing issue. The trend toward providing homeless services today, however, does gear toward housing. They call it "Housing First." In the past, homeless service experts believed that we should provide services to homeless people before they are given a home. Today, experts believe we should provide a home and services at the same time. A different direction in providing homeless services in this country will still not silence those who are critical of the $3 billion price tag. Perhaps compare the cost to the price tag of the Iraq War? Nearly one trillion dollars (on average $10 billion per month), only to find many of the vets return home to life on the streets? With an annual budget of $3.55 trillion in 2010, this country's investment of $3 billion seems miniscule. It is like Tom and Shelley paying for just a new roof on an otherwise dilapidated mansion, only to see the whole structure collapse from the weight of deficient investment. Mayor Bloomberg on how Albany sold out New York City: Gov. Cuomo's new budget is a bust By Michael Bloomberg, New York Daily News March 30th 2011 Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature proved that they could work together and forge a budget agreement that closes New York State's large deficit, and I commend them for it. The governor came into office facing the unenviable task of reining in spending, and we appreciate how difficult that is to do. Since 2007, our administration has undergone nine rounds of budget cuts that have produced more than $5 billion in savings. But in cutting budgets, we asked the governor and Legislature to abide by two basic principles: Treat New York City fairly, and give us the mandate relief we need to save money. Unfortunately, the state budget fails on both counts. Every other town and city in the state will receive "revenue-sharing" funds from the state, even though many localities already send less to the state than they get back in services. New York City sends billions more to the state than we get back in services - and yet the new state budget makes that imbalance even worse by returning not one penny to the five boroughs in revenue- sharing funds. It would be difficult to think of a clearer example of a budget singling out one city for inequitable treatment. The city would be better positioned to weather these cuts if Albany had acted on our second principle: mandate relief. The state imposes many unnecessary and burdensome costs on localities. Reforming them would bring substantial savings, which we could use to make up for some of the state's severe cuts. For instance, New York City's pension costs have skyrocketed from $1.5 billion in 2001 to $8.4 billion for the coming fiscal year. We need to rein in those costs to provide our workers with a secure retirement while also providing New Yorkers with the services they need and demand. Pensions are just one mandate we have been urging the state to reform. We also asked Albany to: * Allow us to save money on contracting, by freeing us from antiquated state mandates that drive up taxpayers' costs. * Allow us to save money on personnel, by reforming antiquated and redundant Civil Service rules that drive up government costs. * Allow us to phase out or end the $12,000 payment that some workers receive on top of their full pension benefits, which would save hundreds of millions of dollars a year. * Allow the city and our hospitals to cap the pain and suffering damages they must pay. None of those reforms made their way into the state budget agreement. Nor did 13 other mandate relief measures we proposed, which would save the city more than $70 million annually. Instead of mandate relief, the state budget actually pushes new costs down to localities - and eliminates funding for some crucial programs. For instance, the state budget eliminates nearly $100 million in funding for the city's highly successful program, called Advantage, of moving homeless families into permanent housing. Now, we will have to open more shelters in neighborhoods across the city. We were counting on Albany to provide $600 million in savings and aid restorations in order to prevent even deeper cuts and layoffs than we are already facing. That didn't happen. As a result, unless Albany acts quickly and passes mandate relief and policy reforms, those cuts we've warned about are now unavoidable. Adding insult to injury, teacher layoffs will still have to be conducted on a last in, first out basis - meaning that we would have to fire some of our best teachers while keeping those who have been rated unsatisfactory. The governor and the Legislature have taken an important first step in completing a balanced budget. Now the real work - of allowing localities to do the same without devastating consequences - must begin. Bloomberg is mayor of New York. TRO Preserves Rent Subsidies From City's Budget Cuts By Noeleen G. Walder, New York Law Journal March 30, 2011 The Legal Aid Society has won a bid to temporarily block New York City from ending a program that provides rent subsidies to thousands of formerly homeless households. Faced with state budget cuts, the city announced that starting April 1, it would no longer offer the Advantage subsidies, which help homeless people living in emergency shelters get back on their feet by paying a chunk of their rent for up to two years. Earlier this week, Legal Aid filed court papers in Manhattan Supreme Court on behalf of two families and a proposed class of 15,000 Advantage recipients seeking to enjoin the city from discontinuing the program. Legal Aid says the city's obligation to recipients of the subsidies is in no way conditional on its financial condition or the availability of state and federal funding. Without the program in place, 15,000 formerly homeless families "will face eviction" and the city's "shelter system will be overwhelmed," according to the papers in Zheng v. City of New York, 400806/11. On Monday, Supreme Court Justice Judith J. Gische issued a temporary restraining order barring the city from terminating the "subsidy payments to the current Advantage Tenants' landlords until the expiration of the Tenants' Advantage Agreements or further court order." The judge ordered the parties to appear on April 21 for a hearing on a preliminary injunction. In a statement, Seth Diamond, commissioner of the city's Department of Homeless Services, said he was "disappointed" by the court's ruling. "The Governor's executive budget eliminated all state and federal funding for Advantage and left the City with no choice but to end the program. In a very difficult budget environment, the action taken today will cost the city $10 million more than had Advantage continued with the state's partnership —and may force the city to pay millions more if this legal action goes forward," he said. But Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief of Legal Aid said that irrespective of claims of financial difficulties, "moving forward with rent cut offs for 15,000 households would wreck havoc with the shelter [system], overwhelm the housing court and cost millions of dollars in the long run in increased shelter placements." He said the affected families and individuals "would never have moved into these apartments that they can't afford without these subsidies." Mr. Banks added that the budget agreement struck Monday in Albany restored $15 million in funds that the city could use for homeless programs. Justice Gische's ruling comes less than two weeks after Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo complained at a City Council budget hearing about the costs and delays caused by temporary restraining orders that remain in place for months or in some cases more than a year. When judges do not require plaintiffs to post a bond, the city cannot recoup the money it loses as a result of these orders (NYLJ, March 17). Mr. Cardozo told the New York Law Journal at the time that the city would propose legislation to bring the CPLR provisions on temporary restraining orders and injunctions in line with the federal rules. In the federal system, a movant must post a bond before a TRO is issued and the order lasts only 14 days unless the court finds good cause to extend the period. Created in April 2007, the Advantage program offers up to two years in rent subsidies to certain families transitioning from emergency shelters to permanent homes. The subsidies "promote employment and foster self-sufficiency, so that households can return to independent living," according to the department of homeless services' website. On March 17, the city notified Advantage recipients that it would end the subsidies on April 1. According to Legal Aid's brief, the city and department of homeless services signed "binding agreements" with tenants who participate in the program and their landlords. On March 24, Commissioner Diamond testified that the elimination of the program would mean the city would have to build at least 70 new homeless shelters. Currently, the city is required to provide shelters to homeless families with children and to homeless adult women and men. "When they are relegated back to the shelter system, Advantage Tenants are at risk of losing their jobs and their children's education is likely to be disrupted as a result of the upheaval," according to Legal Aid's brief. Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst with the Coalition for the Homeless, which represents one of the plaintiffs, said in an interview he was "extraordinarily happy to hear…that current Advantage tenants" who had been "irresponsibly threatened" with termination of their subsidies would continue to receive the benefits they had been promised. However, he added that the Advantage program, which is limited to two years, is "deeply flawed" and said the city has "much better options" at its disposal to combat homelessness. Deborah Dandeneau was the lead attorney for Weil, Gotshal & Manages, which served as co- counsel to Legal Aid. State Leaves City's Homeless at a Disadvantage By Seth Diamond, Huffington Post April 1, 2011 With the passage of the FY11-12 New York State Budget, the governor and legislature eliminated all funding for the Advantage rent subsidy program. This draconian cut will devastate 15,000 households in the first and second years of receiving the Advantage subsidy -- more than 13,000 of which are adult families and families with children, many of whom are just starting to get re-established in the community -- who will no longer receive rental assistance and may become at risk of eviction. Three thousand individuals and families currently poised to leave the shelter system with Advantage will not receive it. Eliminating the Advantage program without alternative housing placement and rental assistance options will result in extended shelter stays and an increase in shelter capacity. The Department of Homeless Services estimates that the shelter system would swell by 51 percent to a total of over 13,000 families by June 2012. At least 70 new shelters will have to be built in neighborhoods throughout New York City. And Advantage is a success. For those who have completed the two-year program and been on their own in the community for a year or more, over 90 percent have not returned to shelter. The facts are that Advantage clients are remaining self-sufficient, working, and succeeding on their own. Connecting families to housing assistance, employment and work supports is good public policy. Opposing advocates championing proposals to prioritize Section 8 and NYCHA public housing are not sensible, nor effective. Section 8 is an unreliable resource, with the federal spigot turning on and off at the will of Congress and no guarantee from year to year as to the number of vouchers available to the City. Furthermore, last year alone homeless families signed more leases with Advantage than all Section 8 vouchers combined citywide. Section 8 is a most effective resource when used as a community-based tool for keeping families and individuals in the community and preventing them from entering shelter. Additionally, there are 135,000 New Yorkers on the waiting list for NYCHA public housing -- a seven year waiting list -- with only 5,000 vacancies. Advantage is our clients' best option. But the City cannot do it alone. This program is simply too large, with a $140 million projected budget next year alone. For FY12, the projected budget allocates the City to pay $48 million, the State $65 million, and the federal government $27 million. As the state and federal funds are linked, with the loss of the state's funding, so goes the federal dollars, in sum total leaving the Advantage program with $92 million less in support. New York State should recognize its obligation to support working families who want to leave shelters and re-establish themselves in the community. Advantage was designed in 2007 to be carried by the City and State as partners together, each with a strong interest in the best possible outcome of families moving from shelter. New York City is prepared to continue our share of this successful investment in the lives of those in shelter and is deeply disappointed that the State of New York is not. Court must not force city to pick up the federal and state shares of homeless assistance program Editorial, New York Daily News April 1, 2011 Once again, professional advocates have gone to court arguing that city spending on the homeless should get priority over all other expenses, including those of teachers, cops and firefighters. The prospect is both nuts and unfair. And Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Judith Gische should dispatch it forthwith. The program in question, called Work Advantage, provides rent subsidies to formerly homeless working people to help them transition to independent living. The planned budget was $140 million for next year - $48 million from the city plus a total of $92 million from the state and federal governments. But now Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature, closing a $10 billion deficit, have killed the state's share. With it went the U.S. monies. So the city informed 15,000 households that the program would end April 1. The Legal Aid Society - which for decades dictated shelter management from behind the robes of a judge - sued. Lawyers demanded that the city continue the program, picking up the entire tab at least for a year. Gische ordered the city to pay the April rent, pending further review. That outlay totaled $15 million, $10 million more than budgeted. A full year would add $100 million in expenses. Where would it come from? From schools, police precincts and firehouses. Truth is, Work Advantage went far beyond what New York has to do for homeless couples and families. Not only did the city provide emergency shelter and transitional housing, it paid the majority of rent for working people to live in real apartments, too. The courts say the city must provide services to the homeless - and it does so extensively, to the tune of $1 billion a year. It should not also be forced to maintain a program that far exceeds the legal mandate when the money for it runs out. Gische must get real. NYC Mayor: budget means police force must shrink Associated Press April 1, 2011 NEW YORK — Mayor Michael Bloomberg says that tough economic times mean the city will have to reduce the size of its police force. The mayor said in a radio appearance Friday that under the new state budget, New York City can't afford the size of its police force. Bloomberg has asked city agencies to suggest cuts of between 2 and 4 percent. He still hasn't detailed which ones will make it into the budget. Bloomberg also said the city must reduce its Fire Department. Twenty fire companies are slated to close in his proposed budget. And he said the number of teacher job reductions — currently planned for more than 6,000 — is still on the table. The mayor and City Council must agree on a budget by the end of June. State Leaves City's Homeless at a Disadvantage By Seth Diamond, Huffington Post April 1, 2011 With the passage of the FY11-12 New York State Budget, the governor and legislature eliminated all funding for the Advantage rent subsidy program. This draconian cut will devastate 15,000 households in the first and second years of receiving the Advantage subsidy -- more than 13,000 of which are adult families and families with children, many of whom are just starting to get re-established in the community -- who will no longer receive rental assistance and may become at risk of eviction. Three thousand individuals and families currently poised to leave the shelter system with Advantage will not receive it. Eliminating the Advantage program without alternative housing placement and rental assistance options will result in extended shelter stays and an increase in shelter capacity. The Department of Homeless Services estimates that the shelter system would swell by 51 percent to a total of over 13,000 families by June 2012. At least 70 new shelters will have to be built in neighborhoods throughout New York City. And Advantage is a success. For those who have completed the two-year program and been on their own in the community for a year or more, over 90 percent have not returned to shelter. The facts are that Advantage clients are remaining self-sufficient, working, and succeeding on their own. Connecting families to housing assistance, employment and work supports is good public policy. Opposing advocates championing proposals to prioritize Section 8 and NYCHA public housing are not sensible, nor effective. Section 8 is an unreliable resource, with the federal spigot turning on and off at the will of Congress and no guarantee from year to year as to the number of vouchers available to the City. Furthermore, last year alone homeless families signed more leases with Advantage than all Section 8 vouchers combined citywide. Section 8 is a most effective resource when used as a community-based tool for keeping families and individuals in the community and preventing them from entering shelter. Additionally, there are 135,000 New Yorkers on the waiting list for NYCHA public housing -- a seven year waiting list -- with only 5,000 vacancies. Advantage is our clients' best option. But the City cannot do it alone. This program is simply too large, with a $140 million projected budget next year alone. For FY12, the projected budget allocates the City to pay $48 million, the State $65 million, and the federal government $27 million. As the state and federal funds are linked, with the loss of the state's funding, so goes the federal dollars, in sum total leaving the Advantage program with $92 million less in support. New York State should recognize its obligation to support working families who want to leave shelters and re-establish themselves in the community. Advantage was designed in 2007 to be carried by the City and State as partners together, each with a strong interest in the best possible outcome of families moving from shelter. New York City is prepared to continue our share of this successful investment in the lives of those in shelter and is deeply disappointed that the State of New York is not. Court must not force city to pick up the federal and state shares of homeless assistance program Editorial, New York Daily News April 1, 2011 Tracey Provencal and her daughter Daisha benefited from the city's Work Advantage housing subsidy. They were evicted when their subsidy ran out and are now in a homeless shelter. Once again, professional advocates have gone to court arguing that city spending on the homeless should get priority over all other expenses, including those of teachers, cops and firefighters. The prospect is both nuts and unfair. And Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Judith Gische should dispatch it forthwith. The program in question, called Work Advantage, provides rent subsidies to formerly homeless working people to help them transition to independent living. The planned budget was $140 million for next year - $48 million from the city plus a total of $92 million from the state and federal governments. But now Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature, closing a $10 billion deficit, have killed the state's share. With it went the U.S. monies. So the city informed 15,000 households that the program would end April 1. The Legal Aid Society - which for decades dictated shelter management from behind the robes of a judge - sued. Lawyers demanded that the city continue the program, picking up the entire tab at least for a year. Gische ordered the city to pay the April rent, pending further review. That outlay totaled $15 million, $10 million more than budgeted. A full year would add $100 million in expenses. Where would it come from? From schools, police precincts and firehouses. Truth is, Work Advantage went far beyond what New York has to do for homeless couples and families. Not only did the city provide emergency shelter and transitional housing, it paid the majority of rent for working people to live in real apartments, too. The courts say the city must provide services to the homeless - and it does so extensively, to the tune of $1 billion a year. It should not also be forced to maintain a program that far exceeds the legal mandate when the money for it runs out. Gische must get real. Public Advocate gets help from craigslist to hold city's worst slumlords accountable for conditions By Daniel Beekman, New York Daily News April 5, 2011 Rosanna Peña has a son with asthma, and an apartment overrun by rats. Vanessa Contreras has a son with cancer, and a bathroom rank with mold. Both are tenants in a rundown Bedford Park building that ranks among the worst in the Bronx, according to a list kept by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. But relief could be on the way. De Blasio stopped by Peña's and Contreras' building on E.197th St. and Bainbridge Ave. Monday to plug his new plan for holding slumlords accountable, with help from craigslist. "It has been common for landlords to get away with breaking the law, year after year," he said. "Those days are over." The eight-point plan includes a link from the rental section of the website craigslist to de Blasio's "worst landlords" watch list; the link went online two weeks ago. It also includes proposed laws that would bar bad landlords from receiving taxpayer dollars. One would keep them from renting to tenants with vouchers such as Advantage, the city program that subsidizes rent for people leaving the homeless shelter system. Another would forbid them from leasing office space to the city. New York should not be "putting money in the pockets of bad landlords," de Blasio argued. Josh Neustein is one of the landlords the Public Advocate wants to punish. He owns 12 buildings on de Blasio's list, including 319 E. 197th St., where Contreras and Peña live. The 28-unit building has racked up 180 open housing violations. Some buildings the same size have hundreds more violations. Neustein claims his tenants are happy; he said conditions at 319 E. 197th St. seem worse than they are because the city is slow to remove corrected violations. "We have decent tenants, we give good service and we take care of any repairs that have to be done," he said. Peña disagrees. Her son's asthma is aggravated by the rat feces she finds in her kitchen, and her ceiling drips dirty water. "When it rains outside it rains inside, too," Peña said. Contreras also fears for her son's health. He suffers from Hodgkin's lymphoma, but is forced to shower surrounded by dangerous mold. Neustein's contractor, Israel Edery, said he has trouble accessing apartments at 319 E. 197th St. to make repairs. Because more than 90% of tenants who go to Housing Court lack attorneys, de Blasio hopes to recruit pro bono help from private law firms. He said his plan will reward landlords who make repairs by reducing paperwork and red tape. Left homeless again? Cut in funds spurs crisis By Clare Trapasso, New York Daily News April 5, 2011 A group of formerly homeless tenants in a Corona apartment building is going to court to fight an eviction that could leave the tenants without a roof over their heads. Several tenants at 38-01 and 38-09 112th St. said they can't afford to pay landlord CI House rent they owe because their city housing subsidies expired late last year. The Department of Homeless Services subsidized their rent for two years through its Advantage program, intended to help the ex-homeless become independent. Now, with the program funding to expire on May 1 due to budget cuts, many more who haven't even hit the two-year mark could wind up in the same situation. "I just don't know what to do," said tenant Mary Sanders, 55, whose subsidy expired late last year. "I don't have the money to pay all the rent I owe." Sanders went to Housing Court in February to protest the eviction from her studio. She owes CI House about $4,000 - money she doesn't have, she said. Cynthia Sepulveda, 41, is in the same situation. She has been in and out of court since she received an eviction notice. "I don't want to go back to where we came from, from the shelter," she said. "I thought from here we'll go forward." That predicament is why Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless, said he wasn't mourning the loss of the Advantage program, calling it "a failure and a revolving door back into homelessness." Markee said he'd like to see homeless families receive federal Section 8 housing subsidies and be placed in public housing. But Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond said Section 8 vouchers aren't available for homeless families - and there already are more than 100,000 households on the waiting list for public housing. The city had planned to discontinue the Advantage program, which serves 15,000 households, on April 1 after it lost state support. But an ongoing lawsuit kept it afloat until May 1. "It's a disservice to homeless families and to taxpayers for the state to abruptly withdraw that support," Diamond said. "We estimate it will cost the city, state and federal government $80 million more [a year] without Advantage." It also has created problems with landlords like CI House no longer receiving guaranteed rent checks. "Some of the tenants that weren't able to pay were served eviction notices," said CI House Manager Joel Goldstein. He said he didn't know how many eviction notices were given. The company plans to rent out its apartments to the community once renovations are completed.