Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
The Department of Homeless Services announced on its web site Friday that it will not pay February rents for at least 9,000 formerly homeless families and individuals currently receiving rental assistance through the Advantage housing program.
The move comes less than 24 hours after an appeals court dissolved a preliminary injunction that had required the city to keep paying rents until a legal challenge was resolved.
Karen Ruth said she and her son have been receiving an Advantage housing voucher for just over a year. "I have nowhere to go if they stop paying for me and my son to live here,” said Ruth, who currently lives in a private apartment in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Ruth said she is legally blind and receives a disability check that's less than $1500 a month. Her monthly rent is $1375. Ruth pays $305 and the city covers the rest. The single mother said she's worried about ending up back in a homeless shelter, where they lived for 10 months before getting the housing voucher.
In a statement, Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond wrote "The city taxpayers have borne alone the extraordinary cost of this program since the withdrawal of state and federal funding almost a year ago." According to the city's law department, Homeless Services has spent $114 million on rental payments since June.
Homeless advocates have argued that shelter stays are more expensive. They predict many families will end up homeless again. Mary Brosnahan, with the Coalition for the Homeless, said ending rental payments puts thousands at risk of eviction in the middle of the winter at a time when shelters are already overcrowded. "More than 41,000 New Yorkers are homeless, including 17,000 children," she wrote in a statement.
Homeless advocates said that landlords that rent to tenants in the Advantage program have raised concerns. Landlords are angry that they might not get full rental payments. The legal challenge over the housing voucher began last spring when Legal Aid sued to stop the city from ending the Advantage program. Attorneys argued that people would not have agreed to leave shelter for apartments they could not afford had the city not guaranteed rental assistance for up to two years.
The city argued that the housing program was a social service benefit subject to funding changes.
In September, a lower court ruled in the city's favor. Legal Aid appealed and a hearing is still scheduled for Thursday.