New York City’s shortage of affordable housing and low minimum wage are contributing to a homelessness crisis that has reached its highest levels since the Great Depression.
Residents working 40 hours a week earning the state minimum wage of $US8.75 per hour will bring in less than $US1,500 per month, before taxes — that’s $US1,300 less than the median New York City rent of $US2,700, according to Bloomberg.
But rents are going up, even as wages remain stagnant. From 2000-2012, the average New York City rent increased by 75%, compared with an average of 44% across the rest of the US, according to a 2014 report by City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
During the same period, roughly 4,000 New York City apartments considered “affordable” — renting for $US1,000 or less per month — were lost.
This discrepancy between wages and rental costs has forced more than 60,000 people onto the streets or into homeless shelters. A growing number of homeless people, however, are finding refuge in New York’s airports. On a particularly cold night, LaGuardia Airport’s central terminal typically houses between 40 to 50 homeless people, Bloomberg reported. Otherwise, the airport sees an average of 45 homeless people every month — 80% more than the monthly average in 2011.
Because airports, bus terminals and train stations are public spaces, homeless people cannot be kicked out unless they are disturbing the peace in some way.
“It’s a public space,” Carmen Keaton, Volunteers of America’s director of community case management and facility operations told Bloomberg. “You have a place to bathe. You have a place to eat. You have a place to panhandle for money, and a warm facility.”
These facilities are luxurious compared to city homeless shelters, many of which are located in crumbling apartment buildings that often fail to meet basic health and safety standards. Terrible shelter conditions — including “
rat-and-roach infested residences,” “non-working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors,” and “obstructed passageways” — were exposed in a scathing report released last week by the city’s Department of Investigation.
“At its worst, the Department Homeless Services is turning a blind eye to violations that threaten the lives of shelter residents,” the DOI said in the report, which examined 25 family shelters in Brooklyn and Queens.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who ordered the DOI’s investigation into the city’s homeless shelters earlier this year, reinstated rental-assistance programs after former Mayor Michael Bloomberg discontinued them in 2012. In February, de Blasio requested $US32 million in state funding for rental assistance programs and a further $US300 million for health and safety initiatives in public housing, the Wall Street Journal reported.
“If we do not take immediate, bold steps, the crisis will keep growing with an increasing human toll,” de Blasio said last month in Albany.
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