Victory for Homeless Families
TUESDAY, MAY 26, 2009

The City's policy to charge rent to homeless families who are working was temporarily stopped by the City at the request of the State because of technical glitches. Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, and the Society's Homeless Rights Project, had threatened to sue the City. Banks told The New York Times that "we are hopeful that the entire concept will be re-evaluated."

Banks explained that many homeless families were locked out of their rooms in shelters and threatened with eviction. When the City began the new policy in early May, Banks vowed to fight. Families have been told to pay up or get out,” Banks told The New York Times. “The policy is poorly conceived, but even more alarmingly, it’s being poorly executed. What is happening is that we have seen cases of families being unilaterally told, without any notice of how the rent was calculated, that they must pay certain amounts of rent or leave the shelter. We’ve already had a case of a survivor of domestic violence who was actually locked out of her room.” Banks was also quoted in a New York Daily News story.


Read the full Newsday Article


Critics See Flaws in a Program to Help the Homeless Pay Rent
The New York Times
By Julie Bosman
May 21, 2009

The Bloomberg administration has stopped charging rent to homeless people who have income and live in city shelters, temporarily suspending a state-mandated program that has been marked by mismanagement and the threat of a lawsuit.

In a memo sent by e-mail to 56 family shelter providers on Thursday morning, Anne Heller, a deputy commissioner at the Department of Homeless Services, said that “technical issues” had forced officials to shut down the program until the issues are resolved.

The three-week-old rent program was openly loathed by shelter providers, who hold contracts with the city and were forced to begin collecting rent from people who live in the shelters but have income from jobs.

“No one liked the idea, and we were quite shocked that they were even implementing it,” said Manuela Schaudt, the executive director of Concourse House, a family shelter in the Bronx.

The state required the city to begin the program this month — based on a 1997 state law that had not been enforced. The amount of rent owed varies based on factors that include family size and what shelter is being used, but should not exceed 50 percent of a family’s income, an official has said.

Immediately after the program went into effect, many shelter residents complained that they were not properly notified of their rights to contest the rent, and some residents were asked to pay far more than they were supposed to.

Michael Hayes, a spokesman for the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, said a “technical glitch” caused notices to shelter residents to contain errors, or for some affected families not to receive notices at all.

Of the roughly 500 homeless families who were meant to receive notices advising them to begin paying rent, about 190 received notices with errors, including miscalculations in the amount of rent due, Mr. Hayes said. He said the Human Resources Administration, the city’s welfare agency, was responsible for some of the errors, largely for some notices not getting out.

Steven Banks, the attorney in chief for the Legal Aid Society, threatened to sue the city, pointing to errors resulting in residents being locked out of their rooms in shelters and threatened with eviction. “We would hope that the entire concept would be re-evaluated,” he said.

Robert V. Hess, the commissioner of homeless services, said the program would be revamped and expressed hope “that we can end up with a program that makes sense.” Even as city officials became aware of problems with the program, they asked shelter providers to help them promote it.

Providers fumed over another e-mail message sent on Wednesday, this one on behalf of Ms. Heller, the deputy commissioner, requiring them to give the Department of Homeless Services examples of families who are working full time and successfully paying rent — so the department could “put a positive spin” on the rent program. “Anne wants to send a message that these are not the working poor, but individuals who are capable of contributing toward their cost of shelter,” the e-mail read.

“I’m amazed by it,” said Ralph Nunez, chief executive of Homes for the Homeless, a shelter provider. “I don’t work for the Department of Homeless Services. I work for homeless families.”

Heather Janik, a department spokeswoman, said that the message sent on Wednesday was sent in error and that Ms. Heller did not direct it to be sent.