NYCHA's Budget Can't be Balanced on the Backs of the Poor! City Rescinds Vouchers for 3000 Families

Dec 21, 2009, 11:14 ET from Legal Services NYC

City Council Members, Manhattan Borough President and Advocacy Groups Demand that DHS Use its Surplus of Stimulus Funds to Save 3,000 Families from Homelessness

NEW YORK, Dec. 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On December 17, 2009 the New York City Housing Authority announced that it will void 3,000 previously-issued Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers in response to a budget shortfall. Under this plan, 1833 formerly homeless families, 407 victims of domestic violence, and 133 children aging out of foster care or families in the child welfare system in need of housing vouchers for reunification will lose the assistance and face certain homelessness. We are calling on the City's Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to use a small portion of the federal stimulus money it received to bridge the gap and provide the funds necessary to protect the City's most vulnerable populations.

The Section 8 voucher program is a lifeline for the poorest New Yorkers and the last line of defense against homelessness for many. Under the Program, people receiving vouchers can rent apartments on the private market. They pay 30% of their household income for rent and the voucher provides a subsidy for the rest. For the working poor, the disabled, and for people on public assistance, Section 8 vouchers are often a family's only chance at staying together as a family or avoiding the shelter system.

This year DHS received $75 million for homeless prevention from the federal stimulus package. This money should be used as intended- to bridge the funding gap threatening these families with homelessness. The $28 million required to fulfill the voucher commitment for one year is only a small portion of the $108 million that the City will expend if these families are forced into the shelter system. The cost of emergency shelter per person is approximately $3,000 per month. If 3000 families are added to the shelter rolls, it will cost a total of $108 million.

WHO: The Legal Aid Society, Legal Services NYC, NYC Council Members Letitia James, Rosie Mendez, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Charles Barron, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, NYC Public Advocate-Elect Bill de Blasio, Housing Advocacy Groups, Domestic Violence Groups, AIDS Advocacy Groups and You

WHAT: Press Conference to demand that the City prevent the revocation of 3,000 housing vouchers

WHERE: City Hall Steps

WHEN: Monday, December 21st at 3pm

Because of long-standing federal budget priorities that reflect a lack of regard for those in the most need, Section 8 vouchers have been as rare as gold for many years. New vouchers are generally available only to those in the most need. NYCHA's cuts will take away vouchers that those families have in-hand- families on the brink of homelessness or struggling to escape it, who at long-last thought that they would be able to survive in this City. Instead, they will remain homeless or become homeless once again.

In the words of Andrew Scherer, Executive Director of Legal Services NYC, the nation's largest organization devoted exclusively to providing free civil legal services to the poor: "The New York City Housing Authority's decision to snatch away 3,000 Section 8 vouchers currently held by homeless families, victims of domestic violence and others in desperate need of housing will harm the very people the Housing Authority claims it seeks to help, and will cost the City far more in the long run in shelter costs and other public expenses. This action is fundamentally unfair and poor public policy."

"The administration's decision to terminate the Section 8 vouchers of 3018 families one week before Christmas will cause increased homelessness at a time when City residents are facing the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. We call on the administration to provide $28 million in stimulus funding or other funding to resolve this problem and keep these families housed," said Judith Goldiner, Supervising Attorney, The Legal Aid Society, Civil Practice, Law Reform Unit.

"As an organization that assists tens of thousands of New Yorkers facing eviction because they cannot afford their rent, we know how devastating the loss of these vouchers will be. We receive calls from people who are looking for apartments and think they have Section 8 Vouchers. I cannot imagine the horror they will face when they realize the vouchers do not exist. Many of these families came from the shelter system and are going to end up right back there," said Louise Seeley, Executive Director of Housing Court Answers, a service of the City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court.

Like more than 3,000 others, Mercedes Cruz, a client of South Brooklyn Legal Services (a program of Legal Services NYC), is at risk of losing her Section 8 voucher. She is a victim of domestic violence and a single mother of three children subsisting on a fixed income: SSI and public assistance. She and her children cannot afford an apartment without a subsidy and have been living together in a single, rented room. She was issued a Section 8 voucher earlier this year and was finally given hope of a better life. But, because Ms. Cruz has not yet completed the process to use her voucher in a specific apartment, NYCHA's decision means that this valuable affordable housing subsidy will be taken from her.

"Our first priority must be to find a way to live up to the promise we made to everyone that received a voucher, and find them a home. Then, we need to get to the bottom of this fiasco with a thorough investigation of NYCHA's voucher distribution process," said Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer. "This crisis represents a fundamental failure of government to protect our most vulnerable residents, and we owe it to them to never again repeat this mistake."

SOURCE Legal Services NYC