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NEW YORK – A policy brief released by the Office of the Public Advocate today uncovers abuse in the City’s signature program to help homeless and at-risk New Yorkers transitioning out of the shelter system. The Advantage program provides rent subsidies for 14,000 individuals so that they can accrue savings and become self-sufficient. “Under the Table,” the Public Advocate's report, includes results from a survey of Advantage participants which found that many of them had been pressured by their landlords to make payments above and beyond their contracted rent. Fear of eviction and returning to a shelter compelled many Advantage recipients to make additional payments under the table. As a result, these individuals will exit the program with diminished savings and are at increased risk of returning to the shelter system.
“Put simply, bad landlords are taking advantage of the Advantage program,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. “We are talking about gouging low-income New Yorkers who are supposed to be saving so they can stand on their own two feet once the subsidy is over. And the most frustrating part is that this illegal activity persists even after being reported to the Department of Homeless Services.”
• The survey of 69 Advantage participants found:
• 28% were pressured by their landlord to pay additional money. The vast majority (89%) of those respondents paid;
• Respondents reported paying their landlord between $30 to $500 per month more than the rent specified in their Advantage leases;
• Extrapolated over the program’s maximum length of two years, these side deals cost participants an average of $4,272 in savings that would have helped them afford permanent housing when the subsidy expires;
• All Advantage participants who notified the Department of Homeless Services about the additional payments continued to pay even after notifying the Department.
“Public Advocate de Blasio’s report intelligently and usefully underscores the significant issues in management of a well-intentioned program,” said New York City Comptroller John Liu, whose office uncovered numerous side deals in an audit of the Advantage program earlier this year.
“The goal of Advantage is to help people move to and maintain permanent housing. Effective oversight and administration is a critical piece of the program. I commend Public Advocate de Blasio for issuing this report, and I look forward to continuing to work to ensure that Advantage is as effective as possible,” said State Senator Daniel Squadron, Chair of the State Senate’s Social Services Committee.
“The goal of the Work Advantage Program is to help homeless families achieve stability and self-sufficiency; the Public Advocate’s study unfortunately sheds light on a pattern of abuse that will not only make it harder for participants to cover their day-to-day expenses, but will hinder their ability to save money for their future after they exit the program. Worse, these abuses increase the likelihood that they will return to the shelter system. The recent changes to the Advantage program require more accountability for participants and it is unconscionable that these changes did not also include more protective measures and safeguards against fraud and illegal pay-offs,” said Council Member Annabel Palma, Chair of the Council’s General Welfare Committee.
“This report highlights the need for significant changes in the Advantage program to prevent vulnerable families from losing their homes and ending up back in the shelter system at great public expense,” said Steven Banks, Attorney in Charge of The Legal Aid Society.
To reduce the incidence of side deals, the Public Advocate’s report recommends the Department of Homeless Services:
• Develop a Hotline and other intake procedures to encourage tenants to report side deals and document each case;
• Conduct an internal review to determine the scope of abuse, and identify the legal and procedural loopholes which allow abuse to persist;
• Ban landlords who solicit side deals from participating in Advantage and report it to other agencies so that landlords are disqualified from participating in any other City, State, or federal housing subsidy program;
• Investigate and pursue litigation against any landlord found to have exacted illegal payments from Advantage participants.
The full report is available for download at: