NYC Starts Charging Rent at Homeless Shelters

Even the homeless can't escape the high price of a night in New York City.

City officials this month began charging rent to working families staying in public homeless shelters.

The policy stems from a 1997 state law that hasn't been enforced until now. Under that law, shelter managers started to require families to pay a portion of their income, depending on the shelter and family size, according to The New York Times. Residents could be expected to pay up to half their earnings.

Some shelter residents say the new rule will ruin their chances of saving enough money to get an apartment.

One single mother living in a Manhattan shelter tells the Times she got a letter saying she had to give up $336 of the $800 she makes each month as a cashier. Vanessa Dacosta makes $8.40 an hour at Sbarro. She got a letter under her door at the shelter a few weeks ago saying she'd have to fork up nearly half of what she was bringing in.

For Dacosta, who pays nearly $100 a week on child care for her 2-year-old, paying the shelter is hardly an expense she can afford.

“It’s not right,” Dacosta told the Times. “I pay my baby sitter, I buy diapers, and I’m trying to save money so I can get out of here. I don’t want to be in the shelter forever.”

But the city says it's got to find a way to cover the costs of state housing aid. Officials had to pay back $2.4 million in 2007 that they said should have been paid by residents of homeless shelters who could afford it.

“I think it’s hard to argue that families that can contribute to their shelter cost shouldn’t,” Robert Hess, the city’s commissioner of homeless services, told the Times. “I don’t see this playing out in an adverse way. Our objective is not for families to remain in shelter. Our objective is to move families back into their own homes and into the community.”

It's not clear why the more than decade-old law hasn't been enforced until now, the Times reports. New York City has a higher rate of working homeless than elsewhere in the state and housing costs are much higher.  

About 2,000 of the 9,000-plus families in city shelters are expected to be covered by the new rule. More than 500 families were told they needed to start paying rent on May 1.

Advocates for the homeless have slammed the city's methods of implementing the policy. In protest, some residents have outrightly refused to sign documents acknowledging they had received information about the new rental agreement. Many families don't understand how they can possibly save enough to move out of the shelter and on with their lives if they're paying as much as 50 percent of their income to city government.

“They are taking money from them that could otherwise be used to help themselves get out of the shelter system,” Arnold Cohen, president and chief executive of the Partnership for the Homeless, told the Times. “We’re dealing with the poorest people, the people who are the most in need, and we’re asking them to pay for a shelter of last resort. As a city and a state that has a history of social and economic justice, I think we can do better than that.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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