Tag Archive | "Homeless Shelter"

Finding a Place in New York with a Rental Voucher

When Francheska Lappost, a 24-year-old mother of two, moved from a homeless shelter to her first apartment in Williamsbridge five months ago, it wasn’t an upgrade. There were cockroaches, the stove wouldn’t turn on, the bathroom fan was broken and the sink was clogged, Lappost said.

“It was better living in the shelter than where I live right now,” she said.

Lappost is looking for a new apartment, but finding a place in her price range has proved to be an onerous task.

Lappost receives a monthly rental voucher from the Family Homelesness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (FHEPS), a program run by the New York City’s Human Resources Administration. The agency adjusts the amount of the vouchers according to household sizes. Under this program, Lappost is set to receive $1,557 a month, the maximum for a family of three.

Lappost qualified for the housing voucher because after migrating from the Dominican Republic, she and her family spent 10 months in a homeless shelter in Van Nest, on the east side of the Bronx. That arrangement was provided by PATH, the agency that manages the municipal shelter system.

Lappost is five months pregnant and is now looking for a place to live with her 4-year-old and 7-year-old children. The only option in the FHEPS price range is another one bedroom apartment.

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, a New York-based advocacy group, there are not enough apartments to cover the affordable housing demand. Only 2% of studios and 3% of three-bedroom apartments are in the price range established by CityFHEPS, according to a 2019 report released by the non-profit. In New York City, there are 16,480 vacant studio apartments in the vouchers price range, while there are 17,887 single adults living in the shelter system.  

“We need to be both giving people vouchers to help close the gap between income and rent and we also need to be actually extending the supply of truly affordable apartments if we want to fight homelessness,” said Jacquelyn Simone, a policy analyst for Coalition for the Homeless. 

Coalition for the Homeless wants the city to build 24,000 new units and to preserve the affordability of 6,000 more by subsidizing existing units. Additionally, there is a proposal by District 33 Councilman Stephen Levin that would raise the city voucher price levels to fair market rents and which would widen the supply of apartments for voucher holders, Simone said.   

Even if CityFHEPS beneficiaries find apartments in their price range, that doesn’t guarantee their application will be approved, said Craig Waletzko, community engagement coordinator of the nonprofit Fair Housing Justice Center. Landlords are often upfront about rejecting applications from renters who use vouchers, Waletzko said, despite a state law that prohibits this type of housing discrimination. 

“They’re just so many providers that are convinced that they don’t need to accept renters or people seeking homes using subsidies to pay their rent.” 

Fair Housing Justice Center receives complaints and conducts approximately 100  investigations a year to determine whether landlords discriminate against voucher holders. 

Representatives of the non-profit go undercover, looking for apartments, trying to isolate the factor that would trigger an application denial. They send two separate testers with similar incomes, jobs and credit scores. The only difference between them is the voucher.

Landlords and brokers often fail the test, Waletzko said, treating those with vouchers differently than applicants not enrolled in rental assistance programs. 

Lappost encountered a similar bias on her first apartment hunt. “It took me three months to find my apartment. Not everyone takes programs,” she said.

The tight housing market in New York City means that rents tend to be high, which limit the options available for CityFHEPS voucher holders.

“The quality of housing that is available to folks when they are using the programs is just terrible,” said Waletzko. 

Lappost’s search for an apartment is especially urgent this time around. Her landlord is suing her for not paying rent. She’s not sure why the rent hasn’t been paid; she thought her FHEPS voucher meant it would be paid automatically. Lappost is convinced that her landlord doesn’t have the grounds to evict her. 

Robert Farina, the lawyer who represents Lappost’s landlord, said that although she gets a benefit from the Department of Social Services, she is still responsible for paying her rent. The only exception to this rule is Section 8, a different program in which the city pays part of the rent directly. Lappost’s rent was not paid in full for the months from May to October, Farina said. 

Lappost got another citation to appear in court Oct. 31. She has to show proof of all of the FHEPS invoices . Lappost said she had them – she carried them in her purse the last time she was in court. 

Lappost is running out of options, she had to quit her babysitting job because of her pregnancy. And she’s concerned about the additional bills from housing court. “He also wants me to pay $1000 for his lawyer,” she said.

Posted in - Housing Court Project Policy, Bronx Neighborhoods, Special ReportsComments (1)

Highbridge residents wary of homeless shelter

Highbridge residents wary of homeless shelter

In the 1960s the New York Yankees used to house some of their ball players at the Stadium Motor Lodge on Sedgewick Avenue. DHS has used this building to house homeless people since 1995. (Manuel Rueda/Bronx Ink)

By Manuel Rueda

During the winter, Greg Rose began to find empty bottles of wine and Thunderbird in a small alley that runs between his home in Highbridge and his neighbor´s house. Rose believes men living in the local homeless shelter are drinking here at night. He also says one of the shelter residents offered to sell him drugs.

“It´s unsettling, because it makes me believe that when I sleep at night something is going on in my little alleyway” he says.

Many Highbridge residents say some of the homeless men living in the Stadium Motor Lodge Transitional Home –a shelter on Sedgewick Avenue- are also urinating on the streets, drinking in public and occasionally sleeping on people´s door steps when they fail to make the shelter´s 10 p.m. curfew.

The un-neighborly conduct of some shelter residents has increased security concerns in the area. It has also generated tensions between local activists who want the homeless men to be transferred away from the neighborhood and shelter operators who claim they are doing their best to to serve the homeless population and to respond to security concerns.

So far more than 1,000 Highbridge residents have signed a petition in which they ask local authorities to transfer the homeless men away from the neighborhood. The city however has not responded to their pleas. The Deparment of Homeless Services (DHS) says it has a mandate to help the homeless men out of their situation and to house them at their current location.

The Bronx Ink has not been able to verify reports from residents that men living at the Stadium Lodge are urinating, drinking or sleeping on the streets of this poor but quiet neighborhood.

On a brief tour of Highbridge however, community activist Agnes Johnson was quick to point out a spot just one block from the shelter, where the homeless men allegedly drink and hide their booze.

“One time we found a knife here,” she added, pointing to a small gap between two fences that separate Sedgewick Avenue from a future construction site. Crushed beer cans and a Beefeater gin bottle filled up the two-foot gap between both fences.

Nancy Mendez, a cashier at the Highbridge Pharmacy on Ogden Avenue says that mentally unstable men have repeatedly attempted to steal over-the-counter medicines and other small items from her store.

In February, Mendez said a woman who was with one of these men punched her in the face, after she attempted to recover a packet of Tylenol that the couple had taken from the pharmacy. A few days after the incident, Mendez found out that the man lived in the shelter.

Concerns over the Stadium Motor Lodge began last September, when the department of Homeless Services ordered the shelter´s operator, Promesa Basic Housing, to transfer its previous residents to another shelter.

Residents of the Stadium Motor Lodge allegedly throw their booze away between two fences on Sedgewick avenue. (Manuel Rueda/Bronx Ink)

Dozens of single mothers and their children left and were replaced by a group of some 200 single males that includes former convicts, men with substance abuse problems and a handful of men convicted for sexual crimes.

In January, Barbara Brancaccio the deputy commissioner of the Department of Homeless Service told the Daily News it transferred the men to the Stadium Motor lodge because currently there is a greater need for housing for single adults.

A DHS spokesperson also told the Bronx Ink that residents at the shelter receive psychological counseling, job straining and medical attention.

But while Highbridge residents acknowledge that the homeless need help, but they say nobody warned them about their new neighbors and their possible impact on the community.

As activist Agnes Johnson walks around the streets of Highbridge, greeting locals and mentioning the homeless shelter, it is common for her to find people who do not even know that the women were replaced by single men last fall.

Johnson is concerned that the shelter´s new residents will only bring problems to a neighborhood that is already besieged by high poverty rates and crime. The shelter is just a five minute walk away from elementary school PS 126, where Johnson teaches free ballet classes on Saturdays.

Johnson fears the few public spaces that are available to children outside the school – a small park and two basketball courts – could be jeopardized by the presence of aggressive or drunken men. “What good does this shelter do for the community?” she said.

In response to these concerns, a DHS spokesperson speaking on background, said that on February 11th agency members had met with the offices of Council Member Helen Foster, State Senator Jose Serrano and other local politicians to discuss ways to prevent loitering.

Pam Mattel – Promesa Basic’s chief operations officer – says the Stadium Motor Lodge has a 24-hour security team surveying the shelter’s perimeters and a shuttle to take residents to local bus and subway stations.

Mattel says that in January the shelter also created a Community Advisory Board that meets monthly with representatives of local government and community organizations like church groups and members of community board 4.

She warns against blaming shelter residents for problems that could be caused by other people entering the neighborhood.

But some activists feel excluded from Mattel’s advisory board and say it does not truly represent the community´s desires.

Shelter residents walk down 167th street when they make their way back to the Stadium Motor Lodge. (Manuel Rueda/Bronx Ink)

Greg Rose believes community members should monitor the behaviors of some of the men living in the shelter. Keeping records of any unsolicited behavior that can be shown to shelter operators and local authorities. “If we don’t document anything we just sound like disgruntled residents” he said.

Meanwhile, he and other residents continue to fear the presence –and the alleged behavior- of some members of the Stadium Motor Lodge in Highbridge.

Rose walks out to meet his friends at their cars when they come to visit him at home. In the past few months even his mother, who has lived in Highbridge for 50 years, has begun to stack up chairs against her front door at night, hoping that will keep her safe from potential assailants.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Former Featured, Southern BronxComments (0)

More Homeless in the City since the Great Depression

by Alex Berg and Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Stephanie Francisco, a 19-year-old mother of one, returns to the shelter after she takes her 3-year-old Kiara to ticker treat. Photo by Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Stephanie Francisco, a 19-year-old mother, returns to the shelter after she takes her 3-year-old daughter trick-or-treating on Halloween. Photo by Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Karen Suazo left Honduras to come to the United States in 2002, hoping to find work in a hair salon, and to improve her life. Instead, five years after stepping onto U.S. soil, she moved into a homeless shelter, alone, unemployed and pregnant with her first son.

“I never think that I am going to be in the shelter. Never. So bad,” said Suazo, 25, holding her 3-month-old son in her arms.

For the last two years, Suazo has lived with her two children in East Tremont’s Cross Bronx Residence, a shelter for victims of domestic violence.

“Different people coming in every day, too much people coming in,” Suazo said, describing the near-constant flow of those seeking refuge.

Suazo is one of 39,000 people seeking shelter each night in the city’s homeless system, a record number that has grown by 45 percent since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office eight years ago.

According to a recently released report from the Coalition for the Homeless, a non-profit advocacy organization, more people are seeking shelter in 2009 in New York City than they did during the Great Depression of the 1930s—this despite Bloomberg’s 2004 initiative aimed at reducing the homeless population in the city by two-thirds in five years.

Bloomberg’s 2004 Housing Stability Plus program (HSP) aimed to provide a city-wide rental assistance program for homeless families, chronically homeless single adults in shelter and parents awaiting housing in order to reunify with their children in foster care.

The plan offered five-year housing subsidies to homeless families that decreased in value by 20 percent each year. This plan replaced the former system that gave priority to homeless individuals and families for public housing and federal Section 8 vouchers.

Many in the Cross Bronx shelter said it is more difficult than ever to find affordable housing, as a result. “People tell me that it was so easy before,” said Suazo. “You stay in shelter for six months and they take you to an apartment. Now, it is so hard. My friend has been living in the shelter for three years.”

Shandell Jackson, a 28-year old mother of one daughter at the Cross Bronx Residence, waited for two years for a voucher.

Jackson, who works for the Department of Parks and Recreation, entered the shelter system because she was a victim of domestic violence. She had been to six shelters over the past three years before coming to the Cross Bronx Residence.

Cross Bronx Residence is located at 505 East 175th Street in East Tremont, Bronx. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

Cross Bronx Residence is located at 505 East 175th Street in East Tremont, Bronx. Photo By Mustafa Mehdi Vural

“We don’t get nothing.  Nothing ever gets done.  They try to get you put out of the shelter,” Jackson said.

The more than 50 families in the shelter are supposed to receive basic supplies such as pillows and blankets. Jackson complained that the supplies either don’t arrive or are stolen.

“It’s an argument if I go and ask for some tissue,” Jackson said.  “We don’t get roach spray–we’re supposed to get roach spray. You’ve got people in here that are not U.S. citizens and they don’t have anything.”

Despite everything, Karen Suazo, a Honduran immigrant, remains optimistic about eventually leaving the shelter with her children.

“I want to work hard,” Suazo said, “to give them a better life.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, PoliticsComments (1)