This is the article I reported on and wrote with support from the crowdfunding citizen journalism site, spot.us.
A related version of this story was produced for Bed-Stuy Patch.
Thousands of people who were promised the New York Department of Homeless Services’ Advantage housing voucher are uncertain about where they will be living next month after Gov. Andrew Cuomo cut the voucher from the state budget on March 14.
The effects of the cut will reach thousands of people currently living in city shelters, as well as up to 15,000 individuals and families who use the voucher to pay for affordable housing units.
But the Advantage voucher was merely a Band-Aid covering a large wound that persists in New York City’s affordable-housing system, according to homeless advocacy organizations such as Coalition for the Homeless, whose staff has spoken out about the voucher’s role as a “revolving door” to homelessness.
On March 22, the Coalition sent out an “action email alert” saying, “City data show that more than a third of families who’ve left the ‘Advantage’ program have returned to apply for shelter — but the Bloomberg administration still wants to keep this failed program running.”
Despite critiques of the program, some people accepted it as their only hope for getting out of shelters.
“Advantage was a disaster, but the city couldn’t have taken away the only option in a more callous and mean way,” said Craig Hughes of the Fort Greene Strategic Neighborhood Action Partnership, or SNAP, which provides social services and a free community computer lab. The abruptness of the cut leaves many people without housing options in the near future.
“The idea that someone with a low wage can pay rent in a city with such high rents is a miscalculation,” said Hughes, remarking that Advantage voucher recipients are required to work part-time in order to qualify for the program.
For families living in housing or shelters, the loss of the Advantage voucher will be especially trying, according to Hughes. “The homeless shelter population is overwhelmingly families,” he said. “It’s really hard for families.”
The Department of Homeless Services is telling people currently residing in shelters who were expecting to move to housing basically to “sit tight,” according to Claire Cuno, a SNAP intern. For more than a decade, SNAP has been working with residents of Fort Greene’s Auburn homeless shelter, which serves singles and families and is run by the Department of Homeless Services.
Outside the Auburn shelter, a few residents shared their stories of dealing with the shelter system and the Advantage voucher. Although not all were familiar with the voucher or directly affected by its eradication, many were eager to anonymously express their opinions of living in the Auburn shelter.
“I feel like I’m in jail,” said a young woman who left her home in the Bronx due to family complications but still works there as a home-health aid. “I’m 23, not a child,” she said. According to her, the shelter’s strict environment, including its use of metal detectors at the entrance, are stifling.
Her friend, 22, and also from the Bronx, complained that she was ill and the shelter staff had revoked her bed pad. When asked about the housing voucher, she said her caseworker suggested a Single Room Occupancy option, but that didn’t suit her. “I want my own apartment, and I’ll struggle to get that,” she said.
Not all residents shared complaints, however.
“For the most part they treat me fine,” said a 29-year-old woman who moved to New York City seven months ago from Georgia. She said she came to the city without a penny, a job lead or a place to stay.
“The shelter gets gross sometimes, but that’s because people don’t clean up after themselves,” she said. “We have to put our own foot forward; we can’t rely on our case workers or the staff.”
Although some single homeless people will be affected by the voucher cut, families will be hit the hardest.
A father, 35, who resides at Auburn while working as a sous chef said his family would be stuck without the Advantage voucher. “No matter how much money I make, I have to sit and wait for housing,” he said. He has already been impacted by funding cuts when the Children’s Advantage Voucher that helped families get into Section 8 housing was taken away in the past few years, he said.
Some families might have to leave New York City but are unsure of exactly where they’ll go, said a mother of three. After residing in Auburn for three months, she was about to receive the Advantage voucher when the cut happened. She said her caseworker, who is appointed by the DHS, has no idea what her options are for housing.
Currently, organizations like Coalition for the Homeless and Legal Aid Society are filing a lawsuit against the city on behalf of people who are currently using the voucher to pay for housing. On March 28, a state court judge ordered that current Advantage tenants in this situation must continue to receive the voucher assistance during April, according to a Coalition for the Homeless update.
The ruling was made on the basis that it is unlawful to cancel assistance that has already been promised. A court date has been set for April 21 to determine how the city will account for these families moving forward.
The Department of Homeless Services did not respond to inquiries for this article.
Chris Crews, Sean Jacobs, Tristan Pollock, Ricky Price, Zohar Rotem, Lindsey Shigetomi, Lindsey Walsh, and the spot.us editors and community members for supporting and funding this article.
Original link: http://s.tt/12cjC