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Advocates for the homeless said there is still time for Albany to approve a plan being pushed by Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) that would free up existing state funds in order to create a housing-subsidy program for those who need it most.
“The argument that there’s not enough time doesn’t seem to make sense to us,” Stephanie Gendell, a policy supervisor at the Citizens’ Committee for Children advocacy group, testified Wednesday before the Council’s General Welfare Committee.
A day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it was too late in the budget process to introduce a new proposal, the committee voted to approve a non-binding resolution introduced by Wills that asks Albany to eliminate language from the budget preventing the city from using existing monies to replicate a rent-subsidy program that was eliminated three years ago.
“We know that we need to have a housing subsidy in the city’s tool kit,” Gendell said, “because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have it in the tool kit.”
Not only did the city’s homeless shelter populations rise after Albany cut funding to the Bloomberg administration’s Advantage program in 2011, but the length of stay climbed, too.
The program, which provided up to two years’ worth of rent assistance, received about 24 percent of its funding from the city and another 19 percent in federal funds contingent on the state kicking in the remaining 57 percent.
The average stay in a shelter before Advantage was eliminated was 258 days compared to 429 days after.
Language introduced into the budget that year prevents the city from using remaining state funds to replicate the program, and de Blasio and his allies simply want this wording removed.
During an upstate news conference Tuesday, Cuomo, who worked with de Blasio at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said he was concerned about the issue of homelessness, but introducing a new initiative in the budget would have to wait until next year.
“It’s late in the date to put something in the actual budget, because the budget train has basically left the station,” he said. “So to start a new proposal, it’s too late.”
Wills said there had been a “miscommunication” in the way the initiative was being discussed, stressing the city was asking for no additional money from Albany, simply that lawmakers would loosen the reins on existing funds.
“Taking this language out is common sense,” he said.
Advocates for the city’s homeless said the city’s shelter population broke 50,000 last year for the first time and fear that figure could climb to upward of 55,000 by next year if nothing is done.
“A large part of the reason for that is the lack of housing subsidies,” said Patrick Markee, a policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless. “Homeless kids and families in this city can’t wait another year.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.
©2014 Community Newspaper Group
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