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Court says 'no' to rent subsidy program for homeless

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 9/21/2011, 7:30 p.m.

Over 16,000 New Yorkers could find themselves on the street after a judge's decision to uphold the city's cancellation of the Work Advantage Program. The program, which gives subsidized housing to participants in the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), was put on the chopping block in March due to budget cuts.

Attempts to stop the cancellation of the program were made by the organization Coalition for the Homeless, which sued to prevent the city from taking the Work Advantage Program away. However, on Sept. 13, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Judith J. Gische ruled that due to the state's elimination of funding, the city could terminate the rental assistance program.

In her findings, the judge stated that neither DHS nor the Human Resources Administration had any "ongoing obligation, contractual or otherwise," to continue the program.

"With the recent elimination of the city's only rental subsidy for shelter clients, the DHS remains focused on upholding prevention services as a cornerstone of agency ideals," said DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond. "Shelter should only be utilized as a last resort, and we want everyone to know that the termination of Advantage is not an automatic termination of their lease."

DHS announced that current tenants on the Advantage program cannot be evicted unless their landlord takes them to housing court, and that they are offering help to prevent people from getting evicted.

However, that's not good enough for some elected officials and homeless advocates, who say that the city is turning its back on the poor. Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron and Assemblywoman Inez Barron led a press conference last week denouncing the court's decision, saying that the city has the money to keep the Work Advantage Program.

"The amount of homelessness had increased immensely under Mayor Bloomberg," Charles Barron said. "It has increased when we have a record city budget of $66 billion, when we have a $3.7 billion surplus in the city, when we have a rainy day budget of $2 billion that can still be used."

About the Work Advantage Program, Barron said that while the concept was right, it needed some adjustments. The program allowed subsidized rent for only two years, resulting in many people who were homeless being put right back on the street or into homeless shelters. Charles Barron said the program should be not only be reinstated but also made available to people for as long as they need it.

"This is really a disgrace to this city and a disgrace to the nation. The money is there-use it for those who need it most, and that's our homeless," Charles Barron said.

Inez Barron reported that the number of the homeless in the city has actually seen an increase. She pointed out that the mayor and the governor are contradicting themselves by giving taxpayer subsidies in rentals to people like developer Bruce Ratner, who is building the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn. She also pointed out the failure of Metrotech in Brooklyn, which is being subsidized.

The Coalition for the Homeless said that there is an appellate division court order in effect requiring the city to continue paying rental assistance for Advantage tenants. The coalition added that the cost to keep a homeless family in a shelter is $3,000 a month and that a subsidy cost less, around $750 to $1,000.

According to the U.S. Census, there are over 39,500 homeless people living in New York City.