City is Counting on Federal Housing Vouchers to House Poorest Sandy Victims

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Jerome and Trish Stevenson are staying at the DoubleTree hotel but were told they would have to enter a homeless shelter this weekend.

The city plans to use federally funded housing vouchers to place some of the poorest Sandy victims in private apartments. But vouchers must still be approved by the federal government and there's concern they may not come soon enough to keep some families from ending up in shelters.

Roughly 1200 households are staying in hotels scattered across the city. Either the city or the Federal Emergency Management Agency is covering the cost. Originally, through landlords it works with, the city had set aside hundreds of low income apartments for these families only to realize that many were too poor to qualify for them.  At a city council hearing Tuesday, officials said families were being visited by caseworkers who were trying to help them apply for other options such as public housing as well as get them mental health services,  home health aides and substance services when needed.

Advocates for the poor said prior to the storm many of these families were living in rented rooms, illegal basements, and crowded boarding houses - all precarious housing situations.  They are calling for an infusion of federally funded Section 8 vouchers which are permanent subsidies that have no end as long as families continue to meet the income requirements. 

The vouchers the city is counting on are similar to Section 8 but typically end after two years.  Jerome and Trish Stevenson were hoping to receive some form of subsidy. They've been staying at the DoubleTree in midtown Manhattan with their two small children but were recently told their hotel stay would no longer be extended and they would be sent to a city homeless shelter instead. 

"We've been breaking our backs, going to all these appointments and doing everything they asked of us and in the end we still getting put in a family shelter.  We find it highly unfair," said Jerome Stevenson.

Prior to the storm, the family had been living with relatives in Far Rockaway. They say that apartment has since been condemned and no one can go back to it including their relatives who are also staying in a hotel and in need of assistance. The couple said they are job hunting but have struggled to find work.

The city said the federal subsidy should help families such as the Stevenson's but a spokesman would not comment on their particular case.