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New York City's Homelessness Crisis

At its core, homelessness is a symptom of a badly design housing market

During a recent bus ride across the East Village, I struck up a conversation with a program coordinator at a youth homeless shelter program. She shared that nearly 10 percent of public school students in New York City struggle with homelessness — a statistic that understandably blew my mind. That's more than 114,000 kids, according to The New York Times, and unless we systematically address this issue promptly, I have no doubt it will lead to social unrest very soon.
 
According to the Coalition for the Homeless, there are more than 61,000 homeless people, including families with children, sleeping in the city's shelter system each night. Homelessness has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the number of New Yorkers sleeping in shelters is 62 percent higher than it was just a decade ago. How is it possible, you might ask when we are historically the richest and most affluent country in the world and NYC leads the U.S. in wealth and influence?
 
At its core, homelessness is a symptom of a badly design housing market. Imagine waking up to find out that your rent has tripled, a reality met regularly by many in the most expensive cities in this country. If you lack the income or savings to pay the ransom and have no family or friends to turn to, you will be on the streets. Housing shouldn't be a vehicle towards wealth for the wealthy only. Safe, affordable shelter is a natural instinct and a basic human right. But obtaining stable, comfortable housing is a lifelong struggle for too many urban dwellers.
 
Most experts agree the standard measure of housing affordability is when shelter accounts for 25-30 percent of a household's pretax income. However, on average, Americans are spending closer to 33 percent on housing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In an even bigger blow, the less a household earns, the larger percentage of income it doles out on housing. In 2018, families in the bottom 20 percent by income spent 40 percent of their total pretax earnings on housing, while those in the top 20 percent spent just under 30 percent. And, of course, for ultra-expensive housing markets, like San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York City, those percentages climb even higher. Is it possible to even envision a world where that wasn't the case?
 
It wasn't for me until I visited a friend in Belgium. She pays 600 euros for a nice apartment in Ghent, the country's third-largest city with just over 260,000 inhabitants. She makes 1,800 euros a month after graduating with a master's degree in design, yet she can afford to travel the world, eat out at restaurants and have a life. Having that type of affordability in New York City would balance out our dramatic wealth disparity. It will take the boot off the throats of New Yorkers, and frankly, it should be a human right and not a privilege. Long-term, sustainable development needs to incorporate regulations that peg costs to inflation, or better yet, to wage indexes.
 
While new rent laws passed by the democrat-led New York statehouse might help ease the pressure, they're currently mired in lawsuits, and many fear they'll substantially reduce the quality of the city's rental stock as landlords eschew expensive maintenance. That said, the regulations were a long time coming, and they seem to have had a ripple effect across other cities grappling with affordable housing crises.
 
As of June 2019, Mayor Di Blasio's Housing New York plan had created or preserved 135,437 affordable homes. The city has set a new goal to boost that total to 300,000 affordable homes by 2026. But beyond destigmatizing affordable housing projects, we need to view accessible shelter as a right and not a privilege. Even more importantly, we can't let affordable housing become a trapping handout that hampers upward mobility due to fear of exceeding income limits. All housing should be aligned with the median wage with heavier taxation for foreign investors and non-primary residents. As Americans, we need a serious reshuffling of our housing priorities. Otherwise, this won't just be a homelessness crisis; it will be a moral crisis.
 
Lobby your local government officials to promote affordability and rent regulations in your community. In the interim, if you see a New Yorker in need, especially in extreme weather, call 311.

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Su doesn't see clients as mere transactions but as real human beings with real human needs. She is passionate about educating and empowering clients to make smart decisions, and as a devoted and human-centric advocate.

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