A coalition of advocates for the homeless gathered on the steps of City Hall Tuesday to demand Mayor Bill de Blasio commit to building thousands of new apartments to combat homelessness.
Those in attendance held up signs comparing the populations of cities such as Bristol, Conn., (population: 60,568) to the 60,849 homeless people who were reported to be living in New York City shelters earlier this summer.
Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to address the homelessness crisis in his last mayoral campaign, but critics say his plans are falling short. Advocates want the city to build 24,000 new apartments specifically for homeless New Yorkers, and to preserve the affordability of at least 6,000 more already occupied apartments.
“We’re here today to once again call on the mayor to take action on record homelessness in New York City,” said Giselle Routhier, the policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless.
The mayor’s office responded with assurances that "tackling the homelessness crisis is a top priority."
"Between unprecedented investments in legal services, rental assistance and rehousing programs, we’re laser focused on getting the maximum number of families out of shelters and into homes," said Deputy Press Secretary Avery Cohen in a statement.
People at the rally shared their stories of trying to find housing using Section 8 vouchers, which are issued by the city but rely on federal funding.
The law prohibits landlords of buildings with six or more units from discriminating against tenants based on the source of their income. But despite that law, Charisma White, of the group Urban Pathways, said she encountered discrimination while holding a voucher during a three-to-four-year period when she was homeless.
“It took a long drawn out process to obtain housing,” White said. “I faced source-of-income discrimination repeatedly, had to fight to keep my voucher, and ultimately had to seek assistance from the commission of human rights to get an apartment."
Many affordable housing units on the market have income requirements that advocates said are unrealistic.
Camee Lee, of the group Neighbors Together, said that after she was evicted, her experiences looking for housing turned up nothing but dead-ends.
“I went on Housing Connect only to find out that I didn’t have enough money at my full time job to qualify for affordable housing,” Lee said. “When you are homeless and looking for housing you are fighting for your life.”
The Coalition for the Homeless also released a report outlining disparities in housing access in the city. It details the increase of units renting for more than $2,000 a month, which are empty at a higher rate than those going for under $800 a month.
“We cannot voucher our way out of this crisis,” said Routhier of the Coalition for the Homeless. “Without action we will continue to see ever growing homelessness in New York City.”