Fighting for Advantage
Last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a $132.9 billion budget for New York State, aiming to reduce year-to-year spending and slash projected expenditures on issues such as education and healthcare. Included in his cuts, was his proposal to abruptly terminate the Advantage rental assistance program, which currently subsidizes the housing of 15,000 formerly homeless residents. As these and other households return to shelter without the program, the governor’s cuts would not only prove detrimental to low-income New Yorkers, but also to the City as a whole. Causing an estimated 13,000 additional families to enter shelter by June 2012, the elimination of Advantage would inevitably result in the regression of the system and an end to the outstanding progress that has been made.
As the City’s housing subsidy for families and individuals exiting shelter, Advantage supports working households and helps them return to homes of their own. Although Advantage tenants are required to contribute a fixed portion of their income toward the monthly cost of rent, the program covers the remainder of the payments (up to a cap). Without the State’s share of funding for the program, the City will be unable to maintain the subsidy.
Seth Diamond, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS), distributed a letter to brokers this week, informing them of the potential eradication of the program and the agency’s decision to cease further lease signings, effective after the close of business Monday, March 14. If and when State funding is restored, DHS can and will reverse that decision.
Since its inception in April 2007, 20,272 families have exited shelter with Advantage. Of the families who received the two-year subsidy, more than 90 percent have remained in the community after completion of the program. By this rigorous measure Advantage is clearly an important bridge for families to get back on their feet and prepare for life once the subsidy is no longer available.
The loss of Advantage would prove devastating to DHS, and to the homeless New Yorkers the agency serves on a daily basis. On Tuesday, March 8, DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond travelled to Albany to lobby for the restoration of this funding, as the department continues to fight for a program that has enabled so many households to transition back to independence.
“We have worked too hard and come too far to revert back to the shelter system of yesterday,” said Commissioner Diamond. “Without Advantage, the landscape of homeless services would appear dim– and thousands of New Yorkers would be deprived of an innovative and beneficial program.”
With no Advantage, and no new Section 8 vouchers currently available, families would undoubtedly remain in shelter for longer timeframes; in fact, DHS estimates that the family census will increase by a startling 50 percent by June 2012. The cut would also be catastrophic to formerly homeless clients in the community– tenants who have obtained leases through the program and have only just begun to stabilize in their apartments. No longer receiving the subsidy, these households would soon be at-risk of eviction and shelter re-entry– sending them in a downward spiral of confusion and upheaval.
In his proposal, Governor Cuomo paints his cuts to Advantage and other programs as “cost-saving;” however, such reductions will inevitably have the opposite effect. A growing shelter census will require the opening of at least 70 new shelters in neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs– a venture that will cost taxpayers an additional $80 million for shelter and related programs. In order to fund these new expenses, reductions will have to be made to other initiatives that serve low-income New Yorkers. Triggering a domino effect, the elimination of Advantage would indirectly reduce funding to other worthy causes, including child care services, job training programs and job placement efforts.
In the year since his appointment to DHS, Commissioner Diamond has taken steps to strengthen the agency’s focus on employment, while also stressing the value of personal responsibility among clients in shelter. Advantage has been a keystone in these efforts, and has remained a vital source of assistance for homeless families working toward better futures.
DHS firmly believes that linking clients to housing and work supports is not only good public policy, but also an effective strategy for helping New Yorkers overcome homelessness and become self-sufficient.
“Right now, our system is one of solutions– one that provides households the tools they need to get back on their feet,” said Commissioner Diamond. “A world without Advantage is not a picture that anyone would want to see: families languishing in City facilities for years on end, children spending birthday after birthday without homes of their own. We have to fight for this program, and for the homeless New Yorkers we serve.”
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