If housing is a human right, NYC's failure to provide housing to homeless is a human rights violation

One way to guarantee people with adequate housing : #ZeroEvictions

An estimate of the number of people using New York City's shelters for housing. Source : Coälition for the Homeless/Fair Use

An estimate of the number of people using New York City's shelters for housing. Source : Coälition for the Homeless/Fair Use

In findings noted in a report published by the New York City Independent Budget Office, it was estimated that 33,000 students in the Municipal school system were living in homeless shelters during at least some part of the 2015-2016 school year, representing a 15 per cent. increase from the prior school year. The largest share of homeless students attended schools in the Bronx, and the borough that saw the sharpest per. centage rise in the number of homeless students was Staten Island, according to the report's findings. When the journalist Elizabeth Harris reviewed the report's findings for The New York Times, she noted that the de Blasio administration's response has been to provide support, including social workers, to homeless students in order to encourage school attendance and to pay for expensive hotel rooms to provide emergency shelter to homeless New Yorkers due to the lack of space at traditional homeless shelters. According to information provided to Progress Queens by a social worker, students face challenges of learning during the day at school and during the evening doing homework if they live in crowded or deplorable conditions. The spike in students spending part of the school year in shelters reflects the upward trend in the overall number of people relying on shelters for housing. The current number of people living in shelters exceeds 62,000, a historical record.

According to a fact sheet published by the nonprofit advocacy group, the Coälition for the Homeless, one of top five triggering causes of homelessness is eviction. According to calculations published by the Coälition for the Homeless of Fiscal Year 2016 data from the New York City Department of Homeless Services, eviction was the second-highest cause of homelessness amongst families with children and the highest cause of homelessness amongst adult families. Although analysis published by the Coälition for the Homeless credited the de Blasio administration with making marginal gains in preventing some evictions, the City's assistance stops short of preventing all evictions. If Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) were really committed to combating homelessness and inequality, he should begin by preventing all evictions.

To fight all evictions, Mayor de Blasio needs to begin by legally recognizing housing as a human right. Although New York City, New York State, and the Federal Government have enacted laws prohibiting housing discrimination, those laws stop short of creating a full human right to housing. As noted in a 2016 white paper of the International Human Rights Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, even though the United States is a signatory to several international human rights conventions, the nation has not signed onto any law "that would make the right to adequate housing enforceable ; and the United States does not explicitly recognize a right to adequate housing in its Constitution or in [F]ederal law." In 2010, a report filed by the journalist Natasha Lennard for The New York Times described how Federal officials at a hearing at the Columbia University Law School heard public testimony about racial discrimination in accessing affordable housing, deplorable conditions at homeless shelters, and actions by landlords to evict tenants. These conditions were noted as examples of human rights violations. At the hearing, Rob Robinson, of the advocacy group Picture the Homeless, testified that, "Housing is a human right, and that right is not being recognized," according to The New York Times report.

Tables showing that evictions are the second-highest cause of homelessness amongst families with children and the highest cause of homelessness amongst adult families. Source : Coälition for the Homeless/Fair Use

Tables showing that evictions are the second-highest cause of homelessness amongst families with children and the highest cause of homelessness amongst adult families. Source : Coälition for the Homeless/Fair Use

Although disallowing evictions would not end homelessness, it would undoubtedly have an effect to bend back the rate at which rising numbers of New Yorkers rely on shelter for housing. Furthermore, prohibiting evictions would also help to give tenants security to their housing, their neighborhoods, and the social support networks in their communities. Now, evictions deprive tenants of their community ; disallowing evictions would keep tenants in their community. The de Blasio administration could achieve #ZeroEvictions by undertaking reasonable reforms, particularly in the assistance it provides to tenants facing economic hardship and to processes that would ensure that landlords are not violating the laws when commencing legal actions against their tenants.

As reported by Progress Queens, 58 per cent. of New Yorkers are just one paycheck away from becoming homeless. According to information obtained by Progress Queens, it is not uncommon for landlords to commence rent collection petitions, and eventually seek eviction orders, by first not cashing tenants' duly delivered rent checks. Even though tenants and lawyers know of this practise, and have complained of this practice to City officials, reports of this misconduct have not been investigated by officials. Public assistance programs designed to help tenants facing eviction falls short, almost as if by design. A Municipal program, known as the "One Shot Deal," is provided as a loan by a Municipal agency to tenants on the condition that tenants can prove "future ability" to pay their rent and repay the loan. As if the rent burden were not enough, the City imposes on tenants facing eviction, and, consequently, homelessness, with a debt burden. The arduous application process also denies tenants applying for the "One Shot Deal" the opportunity to receive job placement assistance, because the "One Shot Deal" application is predicated upon tenants being able to afford their rent and repayment upon filing an application for assistance. Even though the City can offer applicants with assistance to find better-paying jobs or workshops to improve their jobs skills, the City deliberately denies these valuable economic tools to tenants. The injustices are compounded by the fact that some landlords commence proceedings in Housing Court by filing false instruments, and some landlords deny their tenants documents during Housing Court proceedings as a form of harassment and retaliation. These violations of the law and civil procedure are permitted to happen by Municipal officials, including by Housing Court justices, who do not hold landlords accountable for their legal misconduct. The aims of landlords are evictions, and it's time for this to change.

As some Queens residents have escalated community opposition to gentrification, some housing activists are complaining that the only way that landlords are able to gentrify entire neighborhoods, particularly where the majority is the aggregate of minority communities, is by evicting tenants, especially minority tenants ; raising rents to unaffordable levels ; and/or allowing conditions at apartments to deteriorate in order to compel tenants to seek other apartments. Because it appears that misconduct plays a role in how landlords are granted evictions against tenants, the City must question the legality of evictions. City housing officials must fight back against legal misconduct and discriminatory business practises by landlords, and one way to do that would be to legally affirm that housing is a human right. Zero evictions could be achieved by providing tenants with sufficient rent and job assistance and by investigating landlords for wrong-doing. An aggressive, two-pronged response could result in zero evictions, if Mayor de Blasio cared, and this would keep children and their parents in apartments that would support a proper chance at an education for our youths, tighter social networks in our communities, and cultural diversity in our neighborhoods. Already, tenant advocacy groups, like Equality For Flatbush, have publicly called for #NoEvictionZones. The time has come to adopt this idea for New York City.

  --  Progress Queens