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City to eliminate Advantage program

Cyril Josh Barker | 4/12/2011, 4:46 p.m.

"When April 1 comes, I won't have anywhere to live," said Advantage program recipient Johanna Rodriguez, who lives in the Bronx and was formerly living in the shelter system. She will now have to go back because the program, which helps pay her rent, is being eliminated by the Bloomberg administration.

Rodriguez and her teenage daughter are just two of the 15,000 of people who will no longer receive the Advantage voucher that works similarly to Section 8. The voucher transfers families living in the shelter system to independent living by assisting them with paying rent for up to two years.

The Department of Homeless Services made the announcement last week, blaming state budget cuts as the culprit. The city said that losing $35 million in funding for the Advantage program will lead to the elimination of the program on April 1. Over 3,000 families are looking for housing through the program now but will have nowhere to go.

Additionally, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed cuts may also be a culprit in this situation as well. "The devastating part of this for families is that the governor [is proposing cuts] that will pull the rug out from underneath people who are already in the community," said Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond in a statement.

Nevertheless, who bears responsibility for the potential loss of funding has little meaning to Rodriguez and the thousands of families using the program now. Rodriguez started with the program in November 2009 and is now in her second year with the program. However, problems began to occur when she said her building changed owners and she is currently fighting a case in court.

"The program had flaws," she said. "Maybe if you correctly follow the rules they would give you a second year. I signed a contract, but I don't understand how they can stop assisting me with the payment of my rent."

Aside from the program's flaws, Rodriguez said the living conditions in the apartment she is in are less than perfect. During her interview with the AmNews, she reported having rats, roach infestations and generally substandard conditions.

"I don't think they even inspected this apartment before they rented it out," she said.

The Coalition for the Homeless has joined in the fight to keep the city from taking away the Advantage program, going as far to even say the move is illegal. Numbers from the organization reveal that over 2,000 families have applied for the program and one out of three families who have been through the program and lost rental assistance have applied for shelter again.

Unfortunately, it is people of color who are disproportionately affected by homelessness. When breaking down the numbers of homeless New Yorkers by race, 53 percent of the city's homeless are Black and 32 percent are Latino. Whites only make up 7 percent of the city's homeless population.

"The city's data clearly shows that this program doesn't work," said Mary Brosnahan, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless. "There are 100,000 people alone waiting on public assistance and it cost the city $36,000 a year to house a homeless family. This program was designed to fail."

Brosnahan added that the city had an idea about how bad the Advantage program was going to do because of the recent announcement that the city was building 70 new homeless shelters with an $80 million price tag.

In an effort to keep the program, the Coalition for the Homeless is teaming up with the Legal Aid Society to take the issue to the courts. The Coalition said that due to the fact the Advantage program is a contracted guarantee to provide housing, eliminating the program is illegal.

"This is all part of a scare tactic by putting children on the street, and the city is trying to re-traumatize people," Brosnahan said.