Washington Square News: Homeless to pay rent

Thomas K. Duane

May 04, 2010

by Sara Gates

Published April 15, 2010

The New York Department of Homeless Services announced on Tuesday that homeless people in shelters who are currently employed will have to pay the city rent or will be kicked out on the streets. 

City Councilwoman Annabel Palma, along with other officials, expressed her support for a pending state legislative proposal to block the city's effort at City Hall today. As officials spoke on the steps, Mayor Bloomberg snuck behind the crowd to enter the building. He refused to comment. 

"This is not a time where we need to be putting extra barriers in front of homeless families," said Palma, chair of the General Welfare Committee. 

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the previous chair of the General Welfare Committee, emphasized the current efforts in Albany to bar New York from charging rent. 

"This is fixable," he said. "We need to figure out how to give them the best economic hand to get them out of shelters." 

The city's pressure on the homeless comes from a 1997 state law requiring the homeless, who can afford it, to pay rent. Mayor Bloomberg tried to put the law into effect last year and began charging some homeless based on their salary and family size, but put the effort on hold when the Legal Aid Society threatened court action. 

"This is like déjà vu all over again," Steven Banks, of Legal Aid, said. "It's a bad policy for homeless children and families and a bad policy for tax payers." 

He explained that tax payers will have to pay more in shelter costs, because families will be less likely to get out of the shelter system. 

"It's time to make sure no family will remain in a shelter longer than they have to at the public's expense," Banks said. 

State Sen. Tom Duane said that single mothers, who are trying to make the best choices for their children, will be the most affected by this mandate. 

"Nobody wants to live in a shelter," Duane said. "That is a last resort." 

According to The New York Times, the rent requirement has been in the works following a 2007 state audit which forced the city to pay back $2.4 million in housing aid — money that would have been covered by working families paying rent. 

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