I learned late the week before last that Intro 146, a bill that would raise the limit on CityFHEPS housing vouchers to market rate and eliminate the five-year limit and income cliff. I and other activists have been fighting for years to fix these useless vouchers. The vouchers are the government agreeing to pay private landlords house homeless people. It’s been extensively documented by myself and others (see, for example, The Business of Homelessness, which I co-wrote with Picture the Homeless and shows my cot and locker when I was at CAMBA Opportunity House) that the city pays homeless shelters the equivalent of a luxury apartment, as much as $3,000 per month to provide a cot and a locker, some unhealthy food, and various staff that are largely useless and there just to collect a paycheck. The voucher provides landlords up to $800 for a room or $1,260 for an apartment for one person, neither of which is realistic in New York City, the only place the voucher has any standing. There are higher levels for apartments with more bedrooms based on family size that are similarly unrealistic. The program is limited to five years for each homeless client, and no one as allowed to make more than 200% of the federal poverty line, which for a single person in $25,760. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have noted the high levels of working poor living in New York City homeless shelters. In New York City, the minimum wage went up to $15 an hour ($31,000 a year at full-time) on December 31, 2018. That is also now the minimum wage in Long Island. Upstate, the minimum wage is $12.50 an hour as of December 31, 2020. All these have something in common—they are more than 200% of the federal poverty line for an individual. This explains why so many working poor are living in homeless shelters and why the eight temporary jobs I had while homeless would not have gotten me out of the shelter system even had they been permanent. I included these stats in a written plea to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who friended me on Facebook after we spoke after the passage of the Housing Not Warehousing Act in December 2018 but is no longer showing up on my friends list, and who at one point in his life was living in his car.
At a Neighbors Together meeting (via Zoom, of course) on May 20, we were told confidentially that Intro 146 had aged out of committee with no changes about a week after we stage a demonstration outside Corey Johnson’s apartment, directly across from the LGBT Community Center on 13th Street, the previous week where we unsuccessfully tried to get him to emerge from his apartment during the City Council stated meeting (also over Zoom), so it was a time to celebrate homeless people finally getting justice. A Neighbors Together celebratory picnic is still scheduled for the upcoming week.
We were then invited to attend a press conference at 12:30 PM on May 25 at 225 E 104 Street. It took me more than the hour and ten minutes I allotted to get there from home, but I found it rather disturbing that the press conference was at a Women In Need (WIN) shelter, and Christine Quinn, CEO of WIN, was being given so much floor time. Quinn was the Speaker of the City Council under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and it was she who orchestrated his third term candidacy after the people of New York City voted to limit all mayors to two terms. Quinn is, quite simply, a homelessness profiteer (I understand the same is true of Johnson’s mother in Boston) who permanently (and illegally) expelled Picture the Homeless from City Council chambers so long as she was speaker for disrupting meetings demanding a city-sponsored vacant property count during a stated meeting, insisting that it would cost “millions and millions of dollars,” which PTH proceeded to disprove by counting a third of the city’s vacant property on a shoestring. This happened while I was in Jacksonville and was what made me want to join Picture the Homeless. Marcus Moore, who was already a long time member of Picture the Homeless, was allowed to speak at the press conference representing the Homeless Can’t Stay Home campaign, and he flashed Picture the Homeless’s report stating that we had been fighting City Council since 2004, much of which was fighting Speaker Quinn. Much ado was made at the press conference on how CityFHEPS was now effectively a city version of Section 8 in which no one would have to spend more than 30% of their income on rent, whatever their income might be. The idea was that you would continue to be in the program until 30% of your income would cover the rent.
When the press conference wrapped, Annie Carforo had all of the Neighbors Together people (including three Picture the Homeless members, Maria Teresa Walles, Marcus Moore, and myself) pose for a group photo with the bill’s author, Stephen Levin, who after which reminisced about sitting down with Maria and I several years earlier to discuss the bill and what it needed to entail. I noted again how ridiculous my situation was, in which even minimum wage work would send me back to living in the shelter unless I made far more than I ever have previously to not be rent-burdened If I made $25,761, my rent would be 93.17% of my income. As it is, the federal government defines “severely rent burdened” as paying more than 50% of one’s income on rent, and anything more than 30% as “rent burdened.” Ninety-three point seven is simply an astronomical percentage of one’s income to spend on rent. When this apartment was found for me, I was told that I could be sanctioned from the shelter system if I didn’t take it, and even if I were not, the likelihood of being presented with another 1-bedroom unit was negligible. A 1-bedroom rather than a studio was so important to me so that I could move my property out of storage, so I accept no blame for the $1,999 a month cost for the apartment before electricity. Levin said he thought the current provisions were “insane.”
After hobbling on my cane for several hours afterward trying to find a TD Bank with a notary for my Certificate of Acceptance to run as Green Party candidate for City Council because I generally have not been using unlimited ride Metrocards, which was due that night along with the petitions I’ve been spending the last month collecting in order to get on the ballot, I spent much of my Tuesday resting and missed an emergency meeting call from Neighbors Together’s Amy Blumsack, who filled me in via e-mail that the bill had gone through last-minute changes in what was apparently a shady backroom deal in order to reinstate the five-year limit and income cliff.
We were going to have our own celebratory press conference at City Hall Park on May 27, the day of the vote. Instead, Marcus hosted a day of rage speak-out. In another display that the press is merely a propaganda arm for the far-right, no professional press showed, so it was recorded only by our membership. Given that it was outdoors and had no microphone other than what anyone might have been using, I realized I was being quite loud even though I did not take off my face mask to speak as many others did. After my speech, I was praised for raising my suspicion that Quinn had something to do with the deal based on the undue credit she was given for helping the bill to get passed. Another Neighbors Together member, Sarah, told us that she actually got on the phone with Council Member Levin and had a heated talk with him in which she wasn’t sure of she had called the City Council members “fuckboys” for adding that part to the bill. Person after person stepped forward and noted that this bill simply guarantees a revolving door back into the shelter system as Maria personally experienced with Mayor Bloomberg’s Advantage program. As it is, Mayor Bill De Blasio is planning a show-veto despite the bill’s veto-proof majority.
It’s just more of the same, so-called “non-profits” like WIN profiting off the backs of the homeless and the taxpayers for a service that can be described as mediocre at best. During my speech, I noted how for the entire eight years I was living in the shelter system that there was nothing they could do for me unless I got a job so long as Social Security denies me Disability on the grounds that I can work a desk job that absolutely no one within the system was willing to help me obtain, and with condescending remarks about how easy they thought it should be for someone with a master’s degree (priding themselves in their ignorance as someone with only an associate’s degree). The limit on a 1-bedroom apartment for a single adult is now up to $1,900, which, for me, means only that the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) may get to dial back the supplemental voucher obtained for me by Craig Hughes of Urban Justice Center. That doesn’t really affect my everyday life, though. It doesn’t allow me the possibility of working to be able to support myself when the five years is over. Instead, to keep my apartment, I’ll be forced to look for a $72,000 job when I’m 50 years old and haven’t worked since 2018, an absurd proposal. I had hoped to get into the Composer/Librettist Development Program at the American Lyric Theater, which pays a $20,000 stipend for living expenses (but still below the poverty line) so that one can really devote a significant amount of time for the program. The same day as the press conference, I was alerted that I would not be among the finalists for the program. I knew going in that there were only six slots and 232 applicants, and that as an unproduced playwright (I mentioned my composing but applied only as a librettist because I could not provide orchestrated and sung work samples), I would be a long shot.
On the bright side, my LinkedIn account got reinstated, and I immediately played with fire by posting Jeremy Corbyn telling Jacobin that Israel must end the Siege of Gaza. My LinkedIn account was important when I thought I was going to be able to return to job searching, but now that I’m not, I treated it as worth the risk.