Homeless advocates and elected officials on Tuesday voiced their opposition to the city’s plan to require working homeless New Yorkers to set aside 30 percent of their paychecks into a government-controlled savings account.
The proposal by the Department of Homeless Services is intended to make the city comply with state law, which requires homeless people with income to pay rent to stay in a shelter. New York City had been exempted from the law, but as part of the 2018 state budget, the city agreed to the savings requirement so as to continue the exemption.
But critics view the policy as paternalistic and misguided. Under the proposed savings rule, shelter residents participating in the savings plan will not be able to access their money until they find permanent housing or can prove an emergency. Those who do not deposit the required funds into the savings account could lose their shelter services.
“Homelessness is not a result of money mismanagement on the part of homeless adults and families, but, rather, it is a direct result of the lack of truly affordable housing for the lowest-income New Yorkers,” said Josh Goldfein, an attorney at The Legal Aid Society, in a statement issued in advance of Tuesday afternoon’s DHS hearing on the savings proposal.
As of July, there were more than 61,000 people who spent a night in a homeless shelter, a roughly 64 percent increase compared to a decade ago.
Homeless advocates have repeatedly criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio for his failure to increase the amount of affordable housing designated for the homeless. In its most recent report, the Coalition for the Homeless argued that de Blasio had in fact exacerbated the affordable housing crisis by subsidizing too many apartments costing more than $2,000 a month.
In July, the administration released the latest numbers on affordable housing preserved or created over the last year, noting that 54 percent of the total units financed this year will serve very low-income families earning less than $48,000 per year. Of the total 25,299 affordable housing units created, 2,682 were for the homeless, a figure that the Coalition for the Homeless said was still inadequate.
Assembly member Harvey Epstein, who represents parts of the city’s East Side, and Brooklyn Council Member Stephen Levin, are also opposed to the plan.
In the same press release from the The Legal Aid Society, Epstein vowed to repeal the state mandated savings requirement. He said the rule "deprives homeless New Yorkers of their right to manage their own financial affairs while doing nothing to address the basic underlying cause of homelessness: a lack of affordable housing for people with low-incomes."
Under the New York City Charter, city agencies have the authority to propose new rules. Following a public hearing, the agency are expected to issue a final draft of the law which will take effect 30 days upon being published.