Children's Aid Announces Creation of Housing Stability Resource Center

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The Children's Aid Society is proud to announce the creation of the Housing Stability Resource Center, designed to provide critical and targeted comprehensive services for families threatened with homelessness.

The Housing Stability Resource Center is part of the Office of Public Policy & Client Advocacy (OPPCA). In addition to promoting policies that support children and families, OPPCA provides civil legal services and distributes direct assistance from The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund to children, youth and parents. OPPCA’s 15 years of experience has demonstrated that cash assistance, though frequently essential, is often not enough to bring long-term stability to our families. The distress caused by months and years of living on the edge of poverty undermines families’ health and well being. While the most evident symptom may be the loss of viable housing, the trauma preceding that loss takes an enormous toll on all aspects of family life.

A new grant from The New York Times Foundation now allows us to round out our comprehensive services model to all families referred to us for rental arrears and other housing emergencies. By incorporating an array of programs and supports based on each family’s needs, we aim to stabilize families over at least a 24- month period, thereby reducing the effects of impending homelessness on children and allowing breathing space for parents to begin long-range financial planning.

The Housing Stability Resource Center

Over many years, Children’s Aid has found that the most effective model for combating child and family poverty and homelessness is a comprehensive approach that provides a combination of:

  • An integrated array of key services and supports to provide each family with access to the life-altering service it needs,
  • Material assistance, such as The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund and other grants and stipends,
  • Advocacy for families’ legal and public benefits issues, and
  • Life coaching or case management and concrete services to support and reinforce steps toward economic stability.

Children’s Aid’s new Housing Stability Resource Center will provide targeted interventions to deliver these comprehensive services to families threatened with homelessness.

Stable Housing Is Essential to Children’s Well Being

Children’s Aid has a 157-year history of serving children and families where they are and developing programs and practices to improve their lives. Stable housing is central to that mission.

CAS staff consider housing as the paramount concern of the families we serve, echoing reports throughout the metropolitan area that safe, affordable housing is no longer within reach for lower- and middle-income New York City families.

The statistics are startling:

  • 15,166 children live in city homeless shelters, more than 9,000 of them school-age;1
  • 120,000 families live doubled up, many illegally, putting them at increased risk of becoming homeless;2
  • 23 percent (33 percent in the Bronx) spend more than half their income on housing, leaving little left over for food and medical care;3
  • 27 percent of the city’s subsidized apartments have been lost through market forces since 1990,4 and
  • Up to 40% of youth who age out of foster care become homeless.5

Going hand in glove with increasingly restricted access to affordable housing is limited access to legal advocacy, particularly for those families struggling with landlord-tenant disputes. OPPCA has seen a 40 percent increase in requests for legal assistance since 2008, with a corresponding rise in eviction and utility arrears cases.

In New York City, with civil legal services severely underfunded and able to handle barely 15 percent of those eligible for their assistance, the results are predictable.6 In the more than 350,000 landlord-tenant cases filed in housing court, every year, 97.6 percent of landlords are represented by an attorney, as opposed to 11.9 percent of tenants.7

The outcome is a significant justice gap: landlords’ attorneys may take advantage of tenants’ desperation to stay in their homes by misleading tenants into signing stipulations for money they don’t owe and can’t pay.8

The inequities place a profound toll on children and parents. Living doubled and tripled up is deeply distressing for families and results in a lack of privacy, inability to find quiet space for homework, and inadequate food.

Young children are especially affected by losing the security of their homes, a tragedy that creates intense stress and permeates all areas of their lives. Many suffer specific physical, psychological and emotional damage.9 Research on the lives of homeless children shows:

  • 50 percent attended at least three different schools in one year, contributing to the 90,000 children in grades K-5 who missed 20 percent or more of the 2007-2008 school year,
  • 75 percent performed below grade level in reading, and
  • 47 percent have anxiety, depression, or withdrawal problems.10

OPPCA is fully integrated into the work of all Children’s Aid programs, providing legal advocacy, training, referrals to community partners, and Neediest Cases emergency grants, and therefore is the ideal location for our new Housing Stability Resource Center.

Indeed, Children’s Aid’s diversity of programming allows OPPCA to draw on agency resources for most families’ needs. In addition to the legal and public benefits advocates located within OPPCA, we will coordinate the referral of clients to other CAS program services based on individual issues, e.g.:

  • Families with a Future: life coaching, financial and credit management, educational and employment guidance,
  • Family Wellness Program: domestic violence and family counseling,
  • Healthy Families Initiative: concrete services and benefits counseling,
  • The Next Generation Center: legal, educational, employment, housing and other services for disconnected youth ages 14-24,
  • Early Childhood: preschool, Head Start, and day care,
  • Community Schools: after school, counseling, arts, and other services,
  • City & Country: summer camps, community centers, athletics and arts, and
  • Health Services: mental health, medical and dental clinics, substance abuse treatment referrals, and facilitated insurance enrollment.

We will also partner with community GED, vocational and post-secondary educators to facilitate access to training and employment opportunities leading to greater economic independence.

Conclusion

The opportunity to expand on The Children's Aid Society’s work with families affected by the housing crisis is especially timely given the convergence of an array of factors that destabilize the lives of children in New York City. By enhancing the cash grants distributed by The New York Times through OPPCA with comprehensive concrete services, we believe families are more likely to become strong, resilient and stable in the future.

1New York City Department of Homeless Services Daily Report, March 26, 2010; City Shelter Kids Missing Classes, New York Daily News, Date: 2007.

2Doubled Up, The Homeless Alliance of Western New York, October 3, 2007 (11.1 percent of rental units were officially counted as crowded, with more than one person per room; the rate of severe crowding, more than 1.5 persons per room, was 3.9%: New York City Habitat for Humanity, 2002).

3News Report: More New Yorkers Are Paying Half Their Income On Rent, Rep. Anthony Weiner, Chairman of the Bi-partisan Congressional Caucus on the Middle Class, April 20, 2009; An analysis by the Pratt Center for Community Development found that in the 10 neighborhoods where the majority of the city’s homeless families come from, the number of families paying more than 50 percent of their income for rent grew by more than 30 percent, to nearly 114,000, between 2002 and 2005, New York City Habitat for Humanity, 2006.

4Ibid.

5More than 18 percent of those who aged out of care have been homeless at least twice, and more than half of these young adults had been homeless more than once. In fact, “three in ten of the nation’s homeless adults report foster care history.” 18 Roman, N.P. & Wolfe, N. (1995) Web of Failure: The relationship between foster care and homelessness. National Alliance to End Homelessness; Midwest Study findings are supported by other studies. For example, the Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study indicates that 25 percent of foster youth state they have experienced homelessness at least one night within the last 2.5 to 4 years. Pecora, P.J. et al., (2006) Improving family foster care: Findings from the Northwest Foster Care Alumni Study, Available online. Seattle, WA: Casey Family Programs; Aging Out: From Foster Care to Homeless Shelters? New York City Independent Budget Office, March 24, 2004.

6Judge Jonathan Lippman, New York State’s chief judge, has called for guaranteed representation for the poor in civil disputes where basics such as housing and other subsistence needs are at stake. He said the recession had swelled the ranks of New Yorkers who could not afford lawyers facing civil legal problems to more than two million a year. Top New York Judge Urges Greater Legal Rights for the Poor, The New York Times, May 3, 2010.

7The U.S. Constitution, New York Constitution, New York Civil Practice Law and Rules, and New York Civil Rights Law, Why People Who Face Losing Their Homes in Legal Proceedings Must Have a Right to Counsel, Andrew Scherer, Executive Director, Legal Services for New York City, Cardozo Public Law, Policy & Ethics Journal, January 2006; Access to Justice in Civil Cases: A Right Whose Time Has Come, The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel, August 2, 2007

8Rights Could be Written in Busy Court Hallways, City Limits Weekly, June 2007

9Homelessness and Its Effects on Children, The Family Housing Fund, January 2009

10Doubled Up, supra.