NYC's homeless may pay shelter rent

A woman who is homeless sits on her suitcase in front of Penn Station in New York City.

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Tess Vigeland: At the other end of the money spectrum, more than 85,000 families are living in one or another of New York City's homeless shelters. That's according to the city's Department of Homeless Services. In about five months, shelter clients with jobs will have to pay rent for the privilege. The rule's actually been on the books for a while, but the city hasn't enforced it. Until now.

Marketplace's Alisa Roth reports.


ALISA ROTH: It costs about $36,000 a year to keep a family in a shelter in New York City. But the city says this program isn't about the money.

Linda Gibbs is deputy mayor for health and human services. She says what it is about is encouraging financial independence.

LINDA GIBBS: They have a responsibility to take actions to overcome their own homelessness as well. And so part of this program has been to introduce fees for individuals who are in shelter and earning income, toward the cost of shelter.

By individuals, she means parents. Their rent won't bring in nearly enough to off-set the tremendous cost of running a municipal shelter system.

The rent will be calculated on a sliding scale: Families with no income won't have to pay anything. But a family earning $25,000 a year would pay more than $900 a month in rent.

Patrick Markee is a policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless. It's an advocacy group in New York City. He says the city's new policy will hurt these families more than it will help them.

PATRICK MARKEE: They're saving money to put down a security deposit on an apartment or buy furniture. And here we have the city of New York saying, "No you're not going to save that money. We're going to take money out of your pockets in the form of shelter rent." That's something that's only going to force those families to stay in shelter for longer periods of time.

He says stable housing has benefits that go beyond having a roof overhead. Kids tend to do better in school. And families are more economically stable in the long-run.

The city will start collecting rent in October.

In New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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