Tuesday, May 26, 2009

City charges rent at homeless shelters

By Brenda Ryan
New York

Published May 25, 2009 11:02 AM

The cruelty of capitalism is clear as more than 5.7 million people in the U.S. have lost their jobs in the last 18 months and hundreds of thousands of homes are foreclosed every month. Now New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has come up with a new form of ruthlessness for those suffering the most.

His administration recently started charging rent to homeless people who are working and live in public shelters. People must pay up to 50 percent of their income to stay in these minimal facilities. They are making far too little to rent a place of their own. Having to turn over a huge portion of their earnings for rent means they won’t be able to save money to get out of the shelters.

The New York Times reported May 9 that one woman who makes $8.40 per hour as a cashier at Sbarro received a notice that she would have to give $336 of her approximately $800-per-month income to a shelter she has lived in since March. Another woman who makes $1,700 per month as a security guard was told she must pay $1,099 in rent to her shelter.

“Families are being told to pay up or get out,” Steven Banks, the chief attorney for Legal Aid Society, told the Times. He noted that a survivor of domestic violence was actually locked out of her room.

Billionaire Bloomberg is pushing this policy as a record number of people have lost their homes. The Coalition for the Homeless reported in December that the number of homeless families in New York City was 9,720—the highest level since the city began reporting such data 25 years ago. The total number of homeless people was 36,000, including nearly 16,000 children.

Not only has the economic crisis increased poverty and homelessness, but the Coalition for the Homeless says Bloomberg’s policy of denying federal housing vouchers to homeless people has also increased the number of people in shelters. Those who receive federal housing vouchers pay no more than 30 percent of their income on rent. In 2004 Bloomberg halted the city’s long-time practice of giving homeless families priority in receiving the vouchers.

The city’s new shelter policy is based on a 1995 regulation issued by then-Governor George Pataki. The rule was never implemented because of an ongoing class action lawsuit against the city. The case, which was filed in 1983 and settled in 2008, claimed the city failed to provide adequate shelter for homeless families.

The new “income contribution requirement” is devastating for people who aren’t earning enough to live on in the most costly city in the country. One-bedroom apartments typically cost more than $1,500, even in the outer boroughs.

New York State Assembly member Keith Wright held a press conference on May 14 denouncing Bloomberg’s policy and announcing legislation to halt the new rules.

People must fight back against all attacks on poor and working people. No rent for shelters! Stop evictions and foreclosures!


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