State plan cuts Queens Community House rent aid program

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A proposal by Gov. David Paterson to eliminate all funding for eviction prevention programs in the 2009-10 budget will be catastrophic for the nearly 1,000 families that Forest Hills-based Queens Community House help to pay back rent and remain in their homes, Queens Community House officials said.

“In this economy, when evictions are going up, why eliminate the program when it’s needed most?” said Christine Roland, director of housing and homelessness prevention at the Queens Community House, a nonprofit which has offices in Forest Hills and Jamaica.

The $5 million cut in funding to the eviction prevention programs, run by Queens Community House and four other city nonprofits, would ensure thousands of families throughout the city would become homeless, Roland said. Alongside Queens Community House, the nonprofits that receive state funds for the eviction prevention programs include CAMBA in Brooklyn, Northern Manhattan Improvement Corp., Citizens Advice Bureau and Catholic Charities.

According to the Manhattan-based Coalition for the Homeless, at least 6,000 more households with eviction notices would lose their apartments in the next year should state lawmakers approved the cut.

Groups like the Queens Community House help city residents facing eviction to pay landlords back rent and to receive assistance from the city and the state on future rent payments.

Homelessness Prevention Program services have been in place since 1992 at Queens Community House, and the group has prevented more than 15,000 evictions.

“This program saved me,” said Ridgewood resident Ellen Brenes, now a housing specialist at Queens Community House. “In 1996, I was getting divorced, I had my daughter and I was facing eviction. I was so frightened.”

Brenes, who was in housing court and about to become evicted, was referred to the Forest Hills Community House, now Queens Community House. The nonprofit helped her pay the several months’ rent she owed, in addition to giving her $540 in monthly rent payments until she got back on her feet.

Brenes began working as a housing specialist for the Queens Community House in 1999 and now helps people in the same situation she found herself in years ago.

“I really think my daughter would be proud of me for doing this,” Brenes said of her daughter, Jennifer Catherine Brenes, who died at age 16 in 1996 when she was hit by a car on Queens Boulevard.

Roland said the costs of the program are far less than if a family had to stay in a shelter. According to Roland and the Coalition for the Homeless, a one-year stay in a family shelter can cost up to about $36,000 per family, whereas the annual cost of eviction prevention and rental assistance for a family is about $6,000.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

Posted 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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