The Legal Aid Society is looking to sue the city after it suddenly pulled the plug on a controversial program that gives rent subsidies to 15,000 at-risk households. Work Advantage is a two-year rental assistance program that provides a rental subsidy for working families and individuals coming out of shelter to support their transition into secure permanent housing. The Bloomberg administration is locked into a funding dispute with the Cuomo Administration over the program so Bloomberg had the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) abort the program. “It’s crazy. They stopped the Advantage program and now everybody’s stuck, and they have no solution,” said Pam Felton, who has an Advantage voucher and lives in a family homeless shelter with her three kids in Brownsville.
Felton, who has been trying to find an apartment, said the voucher isn’t as good as a Section 8 voucher and many landlords won’t take it.
DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond broke the news to households who have apartments through the program in a letter sent out to them dated March 17. “If you are receiving public assistance the termination of the Advantage program will result in the re-budgeting of your public assistance benefits,” wrote Diamond. “If you are not receiving public assistance, you will now be responsible for paying your full rent every month beginning April 1, 2011.” A DHS spokeswoman said that while the program is being cut, families in it would probably not be evicted right away. But Legal Aid said is already advising tenants that city has already signed agreements with landlords for up to two years to pay the subsidy. The city claims it can’t afford to keep running the program unless the state kicks in $64 million with the rest of the money coming from the federal government. They will kick in some $80 million to build 70 new homeless shelters spread throughout the city to anticipate a 51 percent rise in homelessness from canceling the program.
“The money we have wouldn’t be enough to sustain the current 15,000 especially with people who just came on and are looking for another two years,” said the DHS spokeswoman. “And neither state legislative chamber passed a resolution or did anything to restore the funding so it’s pretty grim and pretty sad.” But Gov. Andrew Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto has maintained publicly that the city has the resources to continue funding the program.
Meanwhile, The Coalition for the Homeless, which has long been critical of the Advantage Program, were reported to also be considering a lawsuit to maintain those that currently have an apartment through the program.
Assemblywoman Annette Robinson said the cut in funding is part of the budget dance between the city and state with each blaming each other for not supplying funding.“At the end of the day the New York City Council will prevail and provide the resources,” she said.But City Councilman Al Vann said the state should come through with the money.“It’s important that we not only save the funding for Advantage in the state budget, but also work collaboratively to improve the aspects of the program that are admittedly flawed,” said Vann. “While there are undoubtedly problems with the Advantage program, it is currently our city’s only rental assistance program for individuals and families to transition out of homeless shelters.”