Advocates for Homeless Families Pledge to Fight City's Effort to Make It More Difficult to Quality for Rent Subsidy

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, joined other advocates in promising to attempt to reverse the City's effort to make it more difficult for homeless families to quality for a rent subsidy program, known as Advantage. Last week, the City began phasing in tougher regulations.

The New York Times City Room
Blogging from the five boroughs
August 9, 2010, 5:00 pm
Critics Blast Stricter Homeless Rules
By Javier C. Hernandez

Advocates for the homeless on Monday said they would seek to reverse an effort by the Bloomberg administration to make it harder for homeless families to qualify for a generous rent-subsidy program.

The program, known as Advantage, used to offer participants a voucher for up to two years that covered nearly all but $50 of their rent if they found stable employment.

But starting last week, the city began phasing in tougher rules, asking participants to contribute 30 percent of their monthly incomes toward rent. In the second year, they would be required to contribute 40 percent and work 35 hours each week, up from 20 hours.

On Monday, in a letter to state and city officials, a group of advocates and politicians said that families would struggle with the new rules and that some would most likely return to shelter.

“Such stark program changes are even harder to justify given the city’s current economic climate, with an unemployment rate at nearly 10 percent,” the letter said. The letter asked the state and city to reconsider the new rules.

The Advantage program is financed by a combination of federal, state and city money.

The city comptroller, John C. Liu; the public advocate, Bill de Blasio; and City Councilwoman Annabel Palma signed the letter. Two advocates, Steve Banks of the Legal Aid Society and Mary Brosnahan of the Coalition for the Homeless, also joined the effort.

The Bloomberg administration, seeking to cut the number of homeless people in the city, has made providing incentives for employment a centerpiece of its strategy.

Seth Diamond, commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, said high expectations — not a “culture of dependence” — were crucial to preparing families for the demands of the working world.

“We continue to have great success at moving shelter residents into employment,” Mr. Diamond said, adding that placements for homeless residents had increased 17 percent at one job center this year.

Since 2007, 20,000 families have moved from shelters to apartments through the Advantage program. About 6 percent of those families have returned to shelter after leaving the program, according to city data.

Advocates for the homeless have disputed those figures, saying the actual number is much higher. In addition, an audit by Mr. Liu released Monday criticized the city for lax oversight of the program.