Why New York mayor is offering cash to landlords who rent to homeless families (+audio)

Mayor Bill de Blasio sent out a robocall this week, offering a $1,000 bonus plus rent paid by the city to landlords willing to rent to homeless families. The number of New Yorkers living in homeless shelters has shot up 70 percent in a decade.

Seth Wenig/AP
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference in New York, Monday.

As New York City landlords sort through dozens of their Craigslist responses this week, they might have gotten a query from an unexpected source: Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The mayor, who continues to make affordable housing a cornerstone for his administration, took the unusual step of sending a 45-second robocall across the city this week, asking potential landlords to help with the city’s burgeoning homeless problem.

Indeed, even as New York City’s diversifying economy continues to hum, the number of its homeless families with children continues to skyrocket to record levels.

More than 60,000 people, including some 25,000 children in over 14,500 families, now spend the night in one of the city’s beleaguered homeless shelters – an all-time record and nearly a 70 percent jump from a decade ago, a report released on Thursday found.

So the mayor is offering landlords a $1,000 bonus and guaranteed city-paid rent to those who can offer leases to the city’s homeless, many of them working parents with kids, who are unable to afford the city’s sky-high rents.

“Hi, this is Mayor Bill de Blasio,” the robocall begins, The New York Daily News reports. “As a landlord, you have an opportunity to fill vacancies in your building and receive a $1,000 bonus from the City of New York.”

The mayor’s appeal comes after the city’s Department of Investigation issued a scathing report last week, documenting a New York City shelter system that has become “perilous” for the thousands of families placed within it – especially in the ramshackle, privately owned “cluster site” apartment buildings and flop-house hotels the city is paying for now.   

“Dangerous living conditions, rat-and-roach infested residences, and fire violations are the stark reality facing too many homeless families and children in the City’s shelters,” said Department Commissioner Mark Peters in a statement.  

New York City’s homeless population has skyrocketed along with the city's economy, whose growth has far outpaced the rest of the nation. Since the end of the Great Recession, New York has seen an 11 percent jump in employment across a number of sectors, including health services, retail shops and restaurants, and arts and entertainment. As a whole, the nation’s payrolls have increased 7.5 percent.

Yet other US cities have not seen the same dramatic increases in their homeless populations. According to a report by the US Conference of Mayors’ Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness, released last December, the number of homeless families in other cities has increased 3 percent over the past year, compared with 14 percent in New York City – which was not included in the Conference’s 2014 survey.

Advocates for the homeless argue that the policies of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who famously called New York City a “luxury product” in defending his focus on making the city a haven for the wealthy, have much to do with the current crisis. The former mayor eliminated permanent housing assistance, designed to help families with children leave city shelters and find their own homes, and ended the priorities given to homeless families in public housing.

“Bloomberg compounded that error by replacing proven federal housing programs with flawed temporary rental assistance programs which forced thousands of families back into homelessness – programs which he then eliminated entirely four years ago,” wrote Patrick Markee, deputy executive director for advocacy at the Coalition for the Homeless, the Manhattan-based group that released its state of the homeless report on Thursday.

Mayor de Blasio’s robocalls this week are part of his administration’s efforts to reboot permanent housing assistance programs for the homeless with a new Living in Communities Rental Assistance program, which requires some working families to devote 30 percent of their income to their rent, with the city subsidizing the rest.

In the meantime, the city is also working to clean up the squalid conditions of its “cluster site” shelters – in which the city often pays more than double these privately-run apartment building’s market rates. The new program is seeking to help landlords fill their vacancies, offering the extra $1,000 signing bonus as an incentive.

“This call from the mayor is part of our ongoing conversations and outreach to landlords,” a City Hall spokeswoman told the Daily News. “We want to remind landlords with vacant units that these programs are available, a safe business opportunity for them, and a way to help our city combat a huge affordability crisis.”

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