As Subsidies Dry Up, Homeless Families Struggle to Find Housing

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

For decades, homeless families with children entering a city shelter could count on receiving housing subsidies to help them transition out of homelessness and into their own apartments.

Earlier this year, when the state cut its share of funding for the housing voucher, the Bloomberg Administration ended that subsidy completely. Without the rental assistance to fall back on some poor families are facing difficult choices.

A single mother’s quest to avoid homelessness

Kimberly Hargrove, 45, was about to sign a lease on a two-bedroom apartment where she could live with her two sons when the city cut the so-called Advantage housing subsidy.  

Without the rental assistance, the single mom who works as a supermarket cashier, lost the apartment and has been struggling to escape homelessness ever since.  

“What options are there?” Hargrove asked. “I work a minimum wage … job. The apartments start at $1,000 so even if I take my whole pay check it’s still not enough to cover the whole apartment."

Most of her pay check goes to food, MetroCards and diapers for her toddler.
Hargrove was staying at the Van Siclen Family Residence, a shelter in Brooklyn, while searching for a place to live. In August, she refused to be transferred to a shelter in the Bronx and returned to the home of her 3-year old’s father, a man she described as verbally abusive.  

“I don’t like where I’m going,” she said she told shelter staff. “But I do have somewhere that I can go. I did this for 15 months and it got me nowhere.”

It’s the third time Hargrove has faced homelessness.

The first time was at age 19 when her oldest son was 2. Back then she received a Federal Section 8 housing subsidy and remained stable for 15 years.

But she has struggled ever since she lost the rental assistance.

Before working at Pioneer Supermarket, Hargrove was a seasonal employee at the city’s Parks Department and a home health aid.

Lifting patients gave her three herniated discs, she said. And although she’d like to return to being an administrative assistant, she said it’s difficult competing with recent college graduates.

“Now they want Bachelors Degrees for what I did when I didn’t even have a GED,” Hargrove said.

With few options, the single mom said she plans to move to a small town in Pennsylvania where it costs $500 a month to rent a two-bedroom house.  

“If I had to get another cashiers job at least I’d be able to afford my rent,” she said.

A struggle shared citywide

Hargrove is not alone in her struggle to find a place to live.

Shelter providers say few shelter residents can afford to rent their own apartments and many feel hopeless and stuck.

But the Department of Homeless Services said people are leaving and returning to family, friends or reuniting with old partners.  

“People in shelter are no different than other low-income New Yorkers throughout the city,” said Seth Diamond, commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services.

“They initially live with family members. They try and increase their income. Their situations may change and they adapt.”  

Between April and June — the first three months following the end of the subsidy — 33 percent fewer families left shelters compared to the same period the prior year.

The city argues it’s not a fair comparison because it includes a month when residents were leaving at a faster pace in order to take advantage of a more generous subsidy that the  city put in place before eliminating the program entirely.

Officials point out that over the summer shelter applications dropped to the lowest level since 2008 with 18 percent fewer families coming through the front door compared to the prior summer.

But the overall numbers show family homelessness has been on a steady rise since July. As of last week, more than 8,400 families were in shelter — or roughly 28,000 people. The figure does not include single adults.
Legal Aid Attorney Steve Banks said that number will only grow as those who leave to precarious situations continue to return to shelter.

“What we see is increasing numbers of families labeled as ‘left on own from transitional facilities’ and then showing right back up again in later months reapplying for shelter,” Banks said.

Banks believes families in shelter should receive a public housing apartment or a Section 8 housing subsidy. They used to get priority for both federal programs until the Bloomberg Administration ended the practice in 2005 mostly because it believed the assistance created an incentive to enter shelter but also because Section 8 and public housing are in short supply.  

Since the subsidy ended, the average stay in shelter has lengthened from nine to 11 months, according to Banks.  

“It’s only a matter of time before the system explodes”, he said.

High stakes for domestic violence victims

With no assistance, the transition out of homelessness has been difficult for poor New Yorkers but for those in domestic violence shelters, the stakes are much higher.

Veronica Reynolds fled her abusive husband about a year ago and has been staying at the Sarah Burke House ever since.

Out of concern for her safety, WNYC agreed to change her name.

(Photo: Veronica Reynolds fled her abusive husband about a year ago and has been staying at the Sarah Burke House ever since. Cindy Rodriguez/WNYC)

“My husband was always verbally abusive,” Reynolds said. “But one day it went too far. He assaulted me in front of the kids, and I had to make the decision to leave.”

The mother of two said she had been financially dependent on her husband and knew the first thing she needed to do was get a job that paid more than being a daycare assistant did.

“I was like, 'I have to get some skills,''” she said. “I have to get myself out there and I have to make enough money to take care of my family.'”

So far, she’s had no luck finding a new job and the pressure to leave shelter is growing. Unlike those in homeless shelters, individuals in domestic violence shelters  have about 4-1/2 months to get on their feet. A small percentage are given up to a year.

Reynolds’ extension expires this month. If she times out, she may have to go to a homeless shelter. She’s adamant she will not return to her abusive husband but shelter providers are worried without housing options many women are doing just that.

Between April and July, New Destiny Housing Corporation, a domestic violence provider, noticed a 9 percent rise in women returning to unknown locations and a 14 percent increase in those going back to their former apartments -- reportedly without the batterer present.

Nathaniel Fields, vice president of Domestic Violence Programs for Safe Horizon, said it’s one thing for a woman to go back to a batterer if it’s her choice but it’s another if she’s going back out of desperation.

“It becomes for us and for them a scary situation,” said Fields, who cited a rise in domestic violence related homicides that started before the housing subsidy ended. “No one in the city wants to see that move up. I’m sure of that but often policies have unintended consequences.”

Marie Phillip, director of the city’s Domestic Violence Office, acknowledges finding permanent housing has grown more difficult over the years but says the housing subsidy is not the only answer.  

“When clients are in our system one of the things we do is to help them look at all the choices,” she said, adding that other options include moving in with a family member or friend as long as it’s safe or relocating to another state. “They may not be comfortable or easy but they are choices.”


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Comments [21]

millie from hemtead 11550

Some of you ignorant people who are so quick to judge the poor need a serious wake up call. You should lose everything you have. All the things that make you so foolish and heartless. Start from scratch and get nothing but hell from the world and see if you love it. Try it for one week and let the world know if you need help from the goverment. If you do need help, hopefully you ll get turned down. Go straight to hell.

Jul. 21 2014 09:29 PM
Michelle from NY

Are some of you people listening when someone is in a domestic violence relationship the man does not start off beating on the woman that comes with time. Within the D.V. relationship there is also mental, physical, and sometimes sexual abuse. So how dare you tell a woman who is in a D.V. relationship with all of the above to stop having children.

Jun. 11 2013 02:44 PM
Angel from in my head

I've read the most inappropriate comment I've ever seen right here on this page. It's her fault she brang a toddler into her lower class life, (your tax dollars are going to raise this kid?) I am not amused by this in the least. I am a mother of 3 small children and I know circumstances can go out of your control quite quickly. The ignorant person who wrote "well it's your fault you had more children" has no idea what it is like to lose everything you've built and having it be completely out of your control. Obviously never been let go laid off or fired. Must have a trust fund from mommy and daddy..... Life is horrible get a helmet and move on through with the rest of us to a happier place where money means nothing and being a good person counts for something.

May. 17 2013 05:04 PM
Jackie from Bronx NY

The Main problem with homeless shelters is this.
NYS is paying as much as 3,400,00 a month for a family of 3
While some of the larger families will be expected to pay
7,400.00 and even larger families to the tune of 9,400,00 a month,
which the sate of NY pays BTW.
Now, if you times that times say 67 occupancy's per building,
times that times say 30 building throughout the 5 boroughs,
well you do the math. I will say it's in the millions annually.
Land Lords are being encouraged to turn over their run down barley livable apartments into ("Homeless Shelters") because of the incentive to be able to rack up on insane rents.
So it's no wonder there is no money in the budget for housing programs
thus the homeless epidemic grows.

Until the government and those responsible for running the
"Homeless shelters takes a hard look
at temporary shelters, the condition of these building, and rents,
there will never ever be a solution.
FYI most of the shelters are i'll equipped to help homeless families
get back on there feet to permanent housing because of ill training, and no resources, yet a ton of money is being spent to house these families
yearly. A
Fact: an average family will reside in a homeless shelters for up to 3 years and no less than 2 years.
You think the system is Corrupt, yeah it most defiantly is!
The state of NY is making these slumlords wealthy and no one is talking about that one simple fucking fact!!!
I am in a Homeless shelters.

Apr. 24 2013 07:46 PM
toyshall from Harrisburg, Pa

I want to st "good luck" if she thinks moving to PA will be the answer to her homeless situation. Yes, there are cheap apartments here compared to NY, but the jobs here don't pay enough for you to make that 500 rent. The electricity, gas and oil cost are through the roof. Also, an apartment ran professionally ...they evicted with in 30 days from the 1st. Going through the court systems. I am a single mom of one....I live in PA and am about to move in a shelter. I work 2 jobs here, with a medical billing certificate, and some college credits. And guess what. I don't get paid enough for that 500.00 rent. I moved from long Island with that same idea.

Jun. 13 2012 12:13 PM
Christin from Bronx

Not all of us are looking for THE HANDOUT! I lost my job & house downsouth moved to new york & was looking for a job monday-friday. I left the shelter each morning at 8am & didnt get back until 5pm looking for work. I finally found a job if its not one thing its another. Lack of childcare, when you job wants you to work weekends & not too many childcare providers offer weekend care,you make 7.25-9.00 a hr even if u work 35hrs or more you still cannot afford rent because they want you to make 3x the rent.. Sooooooooo

Mar. 28 2012 11:01 AM
michael buzzie from BRONX


Feb. 04 2012 06:45 AM
ROSAND from New York

I hate being homeless and i feel so sorry that my kids and other kids in the shelter system are treated unhuman. If you have limted income what landlord in his right mind going to rent to you. I had talk to many realstate brokers and landlord, they just laught in my face and say " you do not have enought funds or your income to low. Then they would say call back when you have 30x your income. This is not fair to poor people,and know the shelter wants you to save 30% of your income like that really going to attain apartment when reality is we need low income housing with the type very low income disable people like myself have. Lets end homelessnes by building very- low income apartment, fairhousing is what we really need then you can punish folks who loss them. Dont punish homeless family cause the rents are so hight and their income can't pay rent. Lord, what is wrong with this government treating poor people like garbage, why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Nov. 12 2011 02:43 PM
Brian Z from NYC

With government funding drying up, one of the very few ways we can help break the cycle of domestic violence and homelessness is to support organizations like New Destiny and others.

As a supporter of New Destiny, I have personally witnessed the amazing impact they have on the lives of domestic violence survivors, their families, and others suffering from homelessness.

Anyone interested in helping this wonderful organization should visit their website at

Nov. 02 2011 09:44 AM
Steven John Bosch from Westbury, NY 11590

I work for an organization that has built 72 units of housing for senior citizens, new families and the physically challenged in Nassau County. We have done this with Low Income Housing Tax Credits. Our chairman is in his 80s and means to build more before he is through. Our website is located at

Nov. 02 2011 12:09 AM
Enarie from bronx

I am in a very Abusive relationship. My husband sexually, physically, and emotionally abuses me. I must say @ I Cruz, until u have been in my shoes u have no right to judge. I went to college, and did everything right. Right now its eithier I go to a domestic violence shelter or take the abuse. I'm at my wits end. I have a 4 year old son and I am 7 months pregnant. My husband rapes it ok. We have no help from the government. Were victims of the society we live in and victims of abuse. What's the sense of going to a sheltter if there's no help?

Nov. 01 2011 09:38 PM
Andie from NYC

2 points:
1. Homeless shelter rates went down because a bunch of women went back to bad situations once all the housing programs were cancelled, rather than live indefinitely at a shelter.

2. Our high schools should teach better family planning and money management. You should not have children if you don't have a job that can pay for them.

Nov. 01 2011 08:51 PM
CH from Brooklyn

One thing this article doesn't mention is the cost of childcare. How do women maintain jobs, even minimum wage ones, with no safe, affordable childcare? Between that and lack of subsidized housing, mothers and their children become trapped in cycles of homelessness and are ever more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Nov. 01 2011 06:01 PM

When brokers require renters to be earning 40 x the rent how can many people who don't even have the extreme economic circumstances of the homeless be able to afford anything in NYC? It's not allowed to anyone other than the 1%. Bloomberg only supports the upper tier of wealthy people in this city. Everybody else can hike to Jersey or live in a tent in Zucotti Park.

Nov. 01 2011 05:56 PM

@lcruz- I'd like to see you get pregnant, be abused by the one who wouldn't use contraception and then subjugated to the real age and credit discrimination that is present in employment practices. "Sink or swim" is your philosophy I see. You've got yours so everyone else can suffer. Put yourself in her shoes and you'll sing a different tune.

Nov. 01 2011 05:50 PM

In America's glory days (really just two short decades after WW2) one person working could pay for a house and a family. Now one person working cannot even pay for an apartment, if they can even find work at all. Just another example of the standard of living in the West plummeting. Hopefully there won't be a world war as the center of global power shifts East.

Nov. 01 2011 04:37 PM
nicole S from new york

I am not surprised to see the number of domestic violence and homelessness rising due to the bad economy.

Thank God for not for profit organizations like New Destiny Housing which provides very affordable, and permanent solution to victims of domestic abuse by giving them and their children a second chance to live in a safe place until they are able to get a job.

We need more organizations like New Destiny.

Nov. 01 2011 03:44 PM
Fatkitty from NYC

@ John Fudala-- this is exactly why NYC needs more affordable housing! A lot of people aren't "poor enough" to take advantage of housing programs.

@lcruz-- perhaps what's irresponsible is a job market that doesn't provide people with a living wage. Poor people have the right to have kids, too.

Nov. 01 2011 03:20 PM
lcruz from brooklyn

"Most of her pay check goes to food, MetroCards and diapers for her toddler. "

whycome she had a toddler, did she somehow think that well is ok, the city(my tax contributions) will pay for it.

why would anyone think that when you have a minimum wage job is ok to bring more kids into the world you're living, that is outright irresponsible.

Nov. 01 2011 12:16 PM
John Fudala from Brooklyn NY

I didn't read the whole article.
I just want to mention that the projects seem like luxury housing compared to just a block away where I live and pay double the rent.
Also is there incentive to get out of these subsidized housings? It seems to me that the people who live there are trying hard to stay there and not get out.

Nov. 01 2011 11:13 AM
Majora Carter from the South Bronx

This story is an excellent example of how I view "sustainability" and the interconnected nature of accessible jobs/housing, and a City that reflects our values.

NY City's Marie Phillip, director of the City’s Domestic Violence Office, remarks to victims of domestic violence with no housing after shelter time is maxed out, like "move in with family or get out of town are appalling.

It reminds me of how the City wants to maintain its "Million Trees" and other Green-Infrastructure investments with "volunteers".

The connection between jobs and the City we want to live in is not being made where it matters. I am working hard to meet this challenge, and hope i will have something way more hopeful for Cindy R to report on in the next year!

Nov. 01 2011 09:23 AM

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