It’s tough to be poor in Queens and the city seems to be taking note.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has set aside $93 million to provide free legal advice and representation to low-income tenants facing eviction, a major source of homelessness in the five boroughs. As housing prices rise across the city, some renters are finding themselves on the streets after unscrupulous landlords force them out of their homes.
Still other poor tenants cannot afford to pay their full rent after a family member loses a job or the monthly bill climbs, leaving a gap that can be a quick passport to the nearest shelter. State Sen. Andrew Hevesi from Forest Hills has proposed a single subsidy for low-income New Yorkers struggling to cover the rent, a solution that would cost $11,224 a year – far less than housing a family of four in a converted hotel or a shelter for $38,500. His measure has gained widespread support from city lawmakers.
With nearly half of New Yorkers living in near poverty and one in nine Queens residents classified as hungry, every penny saved counts.
The minimum wage rose to $9.70 an hour Dec. 31 – the first of several staggered increases – but some restaurants and smaller businesses have closed because their profit margins were too small to sustain the modest hike for low-income employees.
Housing and food are the biggest challenges for New Yorkers with the typical city household spending two-thirds of income on rent, according to a research survey by StreetEasy.
Under the de Blasio plan, City Hall will supply lawyers free of charge to New Yorkers with household incomes for a family of four below $50,000 in a move that is expected to serve 400,000 residents every year.
The city said evictions had dropped 24 percent since the de Blasio administration expanded legal aid for tenants two years ago in a $62 million-a-year pilot program. In 2013, only 1 percent of tenants facing eviction in the notoriously dysfunctional Housing Court had a lawyer, officials said, but that number had jumped to 27 percent in 2016.
Another potential break for the working poor is coming from the Riders Alliance, a transit advocacy group, which has been pushing for half-price MetroCards to help about 800,000 disadvantaged New Yorkers. The MTA has said it cannot afford to underwrite the discounted fares.
De Blasio said he would examine the plan, but city officials want Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who controls the MTA, to help fund the fare relief – an unlikely scenario given the frayed relationship between the two most powerful New York leaders.