A Needle in a Haystack

February 12, 2019

Mr. R hasn't been able to work since he was injured on a construction job in 2008.  Until last year, he and his eight-year-old daughter resided in their private home in Staten Island.  Even with the help of public assistance, he struggled to make ends meet.

In February of last year, he and his daughter were evicted from their home. He spent hours each day looking for an affordable apartment. When he came up empty-handed, he and his daughter had no choice but to move into a temporary housing shelter in Jamaica.

On his first visit to our Eviction Prevention Unit (EPU), a Housing Specialist helped him apply for a Family Homelessness & Eviction Prevention Supplement, otherwise known as FHEPS. His family of two qualified for a subsidy of $1,303/month.

FHEPS in hand, Mr. R has now been looking for an apartment for over a year. “When my daughter goes to school, I hit the pavements, call management offices and search the apps. One and two bedroom apartments are scarce at $1,303/month, and I don’t have the funds to cover the difference.”

“For many of our participants, looking for an apartment is like searching for a needle in a haystack," said QCH Associate Executive Director, Mary Abbate. “The lower the rent, in the case of one and two bedrooms, the harder it is to find an apartment.”

“I probably call 20 times a day,” said Mr. R. “When I call the offices, I’m told there’s nothing available but three and four bedroom apartments.”

Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi is trying to provide help for these families. His Home Stability Support (HSS) legislation, which he first introduced in 2016, would replace all existing city and state rental supplements with a single new statewide one that would be set at 85% of the Fair Market Rent (FMR), as determined by The Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). With both the Senate and Assembly in Democratic control this year, he is hopeful of its inclusion in this year's State budget.

Under HSS, Mr. R would potentially have more flexibility in his shopping.  At a proposed 85% to 100% of HUD’s FMR, he’d be eligible for a subsidy between $1,556 and $1,831/month for a two-bedroom apartment.

Ms. K used to work around the clock cleaning hotels to provide for her three kids. She’d pick up extra shifts and work weekends. Even with help of public assistance, she wasn’t making enough to cover her family’s living expenses.

In March, she was evicted from her apartment, and with no family to turn to, ended up in a shelter. She came to QCH to apply for a FHEPS subsidy of $1,557/month. Our EPU was able to process her application and support in her apartment search.  After ten months, Ms. K has yet to find a place.

“I’m not currently working because I can’t make the hours anymore. Apartment searching is a full time job,” she said. “I keep a notebook with me everywhere I go. I’m trying my best.”

Both Mr. R and Ms. K describe the effect of shelter life on their children. “My daughter recently stopped eating,” said Mr. R. “The doctor doesn’t know what’s wrong, and she won’t talk to me about it.” Ms. K has taken to preparing her children’s meals in a shared microwave. “My children were sick after eating the food provided in the shelter. I try to make their meals on my own, but we don’t even have a refrigerator.”

A recent state report found that more than 150,000 children are currently homeless in the state of New York. Further, 80,000 families are on the brink of homelessness and 19,000 more people become homeless than escape homelessness each year. According to Marilyn Sotomayor, our Director of Housing and Homeless Prevention Programs, “The current support system does not reflect the reality our families are facing. We have to act now.”

Click here to join us in supporting HSS.

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