The New York Times: "Poor Families get More Help With Rent From New York State
By Nikita Stewart
February 27th, 2017
In a settlement that could help thousands of families avoid eviction, New York State will substantially increase the monthly rent subsidies it provides to low-income families with children in New York City, a move that could help reduce the number of people in homeless shelters.
The public assistance program, known as the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement, has remained flat since it was established in 2004, even as rents have skyrocketed. Under the settlement, a family of three eligible for $850 per month, for example, would now be eligible for $1,515, a 78 percent increase.
The increase, which could go into effect as early as April, was agreed to on Monday and settled a lawsuit filed in December 2015 by four single mothers — two in the Bronx, one on Staten Island and one in Manhattan. The women said they faced eviction because the monthly public assistance they received from the state was “grossly inadequate” and far below fair-market rent. In 2015, fair-market rent was $1,571 for a two-bedroom apartment, and it is now $1,637. Represented by The Legal Aid Society and Hughes Hubbard & Reed, the women were seeking increases in the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement for families with children who are under the threat of eviction and another benefit, known as the “shelter allowance,” for families with children on public assistance.
“I feel happy that it’s going to help other women with children,” said Daniela Tejada, 27, one of the plaintiffs, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx with her daughters, ages 6 and 2. “It’s really hard out here. All these rents are superhigh.”
The settlement stops short of increasing the basic shelter allowance, which is $400 for a family of three, but focuses on families in imminent danger of losing their housing by greatly increasing the subsidies and expanding eligibility for the program. The program is currently restricted to families with minor children who have been sued by a landlord. Now, victims of domestic violence will be included, even if they are not in court.
The new eviction prevention subsidy will put a “substantial dent” in homelessness, Kenneth R. Stephens, a supervising lawyer with The Legal Aid Society, said in an interview. “It is probably the first real positive proposal on a scale that’s consistent with the crisis that we’re facing,” he said.
New York City, the most populous city in the United States, has the largest number of homeless people, though most are sheltered. As of last Tuesday, there were 60,061 people living in shelters overseen by the city’s Department of Homeless Services. That number does not count thousands of other people staying in specialized shelters overseen by other agencies for domestic violence victims and young people.
About 51,000 people were in homeless shelters when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014. The surge in homelessness has been nearly intractable for the de Blasio administration, which has struggled to find additional shelter and often uses commercial hotels as an expensive stopgap. Mr. de Blasio is expected on Tuesday to unveil a plan to open more shelters so that the city can move people from hotels and eventually transition them to permanent housing.
Steven Banks, the former attorney in chief of The Legal Aid Society and the commissioner of the Department of Social Services, has pointed to the outdated rental assistance program as one of the drivers of the city’s ballooning homeless population.
In an effort to move people out of shelters and to prevent others from being evicted, the city has put in place an array of rental assistance programs, including its own Family Eviction Prevention Supplement. But that program has confused tenants and landlords since the eligibility, caps and amounts differ from the state’s. Under the settlement, the state and city programs will be consolidated.
There are about 10,000 families in the state program and an additional 1,000 in the city program, according to the Legal Aid Society.
The settlement will be converted to a class action to cover those families and others, though three of the initial plaintiffs no longer receive public assistance and will not benefit.
Ms. Tejada will see a bump in her subsidy, which is now limited to $850. Her one-bedroom apartment rents for $1,050, which was lowered from $1,300, after she fought her landlord in housing court.
Currently unemployed, Ms. Tejada, who had worked in a dental office, cobbled together the rent with the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement and child support. “Before, everything would go to the rent,” she said. “Now, at least, I can save and pay for school.”
Ms. Tejada said she would like to become a sonographer.
This month, Mr. de Blasio and Melissa Mark-Viverito, the City Council speaker, announced that the city would double — to $93 million — the funds allocated to help tenants fight landlords in court.
“This settlement, combined with adding access to counsel, is really going to be a game changer,” said Judith Goldiner, a lawyer with Legal Aid.
Tenants can win in court, but they still need to pay the rent. “A lawyer can’t keep you in your home without the benefits to keep you in your home,” she said.