New York City

NYC Council pushes de Blasio to do more for the homeless

April 22, 2015 By Jonathan Lemire Associated Press
Bill de Blasio, AP photo
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With New York City’s homelessness population reaching an all-time high, the City Council has urged Mayor Bill de Blasio to increase funding to programs aimed at keeping families off the city’s streets.

More than 58,000 people, including 25,000 children, sleep in the city’s shelter system each night. De Blasio, who has made helping the less fortunate the center of his administration, has said that he will devote more resources to combating the problem but some advocates — and now the council — have suggested that he is not going far enough.

The council budget plan includes a call for the administration to designate 2,500 of the approximately 5,000 public housing units that become available each year for homeless families leaving city shelters. Advocates believe the program helps families transition from shelters back into the private housing market, but the de Blasio administration has earmarked only 750 apartments a year for the project, far less than several recent mayors.

Additionally, the council is calling on the administration to increase funding into the Court-Based Homelessness Prevention Project, which fights on behalf of families facing eviction in housing court.

The program currently can serve an estimated 2,400 cases a year; the council says that an additional $7.5 million in city funding could allow it to serve more than 6,000 at-risk families in a total of ten zip codes throughout New York City.

“Providing homeless families with transitional housing will give them a more secure setting to establish stability and rebuild their lives,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said Tuesday, “while providing aid to those threatened with eviction can curb one of the most common causes of homelessness.”

Some homeless advocates said that de Blasio should match the commitment made by Rudolph Giuliani, who devoted 2,500 New York City Public Housing Authority (NYCHA) units to the formerly homeless.

“This mayor should step up,” said Mary Brosnahan, president of the Coalition for the Homeless. “There’s no more important tool the city has in its arsenal to combat homeless than to set aside those NYCHA units.”

Mayoral spokeswoman Ishanee Parikh did not signal whether de Blasio would support the plans, saying the proposals would be discussed during upcoming budget negotiations. But she said that combatting homelessness was a priority for the mayor and defended his record on the issue, saying “we’ve taken aggressive steps to confront this crisis.”

Administration officials pointed to a $36 million tenant protection plan, an increase in funding to an anti-eviction plan, an improved rental assistance program, and a Department of Homeless Services program called Homebase that served 12,000 households with a variety of services to prevent eviction.

The council, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, has largely marched in lockstep with the liberal mayor. But there has been daylight on a few issues during this budget season, including a council proposal to hire 1,000 more police officers.

De Blasio nixed that idea in 2014 and had not yet committed to it this year. The mayor will present his executive budget in early May. A budget deal must be brokered by the end of June.

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