tv Fault Lines Al Jazeera April 5, 2015 9:00pm-9:31pm EDT
>> new york new york. eight point four million people call this city home. >> twenty-four degrees snowing hard in central park going down to twenty in midtown. snowfall one to two feet. so they're now saying we could have snow falling as rapidly as five inches an hour. >> this has been the coldest winter here in eighty-one years. and it coincides with a grim reality. more people in new york city are homeless today than at any point since the 1930s.
>> it's really difficult especially to just find ways to get through day to day from you know finding clothing to finding shelter to finding you know where you're going to eat. >> tonight it's pretty hectic because of the snow outside and there's not a lot of places for us to sleep now, so everybody's kind of coming in. >> in just a decade, the number of people living in new york's homeless shelters has nearly doubled reaching 60 thousand a night last year. it's a homelessness crisis unprecedented in any american city. >> what we see today the homeless that we see the exodus from this city, families doubling, tripling up, the rent skyrocketing. this has been a crisis that's been cooking for 20 years. >> why are so many in new york homeless? this week, fault lines looks at the forces that are displacing thousands from their homes.
>> we're on our way to the south bronx - to new york's only intake center for homeless families. more than seventy percent of people in the city's shelters are families with children. >> homelessness is so complicated. it's not just this guy on the street with that shopping cart. it isn't just this one person who made the wrong choice or had bad luck. >> to apply for shelter, a family must first come to this building known as path. journalists are not allowed inside. >> we've been here just a few hours, and there's been dozens of families coming in. it's been really shocking. it's a lot of young children and a lot of working parents trying to make it. >> what's it like in there?
>> it's not what people think. people in there are you know everyday people. i don't judge people because you never know the situation you'll be in. >> i have four kids. my salary? i get paid $9 dollars an hour. so you do the math. >> how did you know about the path center? >> i googled it. i googled 'family shelters.' [yes baby] i googled it. >> was this your first time in the shelter system? >> yeah. >> what's this little guy's name? >> this is josiah grub. say hi josiah. >> how old are you josiah? >> three. >> so where are you sleeping? >> man wherever they place us. >> you come in they'll put you on a ten-day placement. and then they'll be like okay you're either denied or approved. >> and if you're denied? >> if you're denied, you have to come back and do the process all over again. >> and that's what you're doing now? >> for the third time. >> new york city has an obligation to provide shelter to all individuals who are homeless. because of that tradition, new york city has the largest public shelter system in the united states. >> patrick markee is one of new
york's leading advocates for the homeless. >> the cost of shelter is exorbitant. the city now spends more than a billion dollars a year just in shelter and emergency services for homeless people. >> today new york operates over 250 homeless shelters. but still, about half of the families who apply for shelter are rejected. >> the city has put in place these kind of bureaucratic barriers that wrongfully and unlawfully deny shelter to many needy families. >> we met melissa rivera at path. she's twenty-five, and has three kids. >> i go through this every single day when i come home. [come here. come sit with mommy. stop crying] she's my little mini-me. she looks just like me. >> these kids mean everything to you, huh? >> yes they're my life. i love them dearly.
they're my babies. >> melissa has been homeless for three years. she and her kids now sleep in the living room of her grandmother's public housing unit. >> this is it right here. i put this couch i bring it over, put it together with that one, put the blankets on there. >> so you all sleep right here in the living room? >> just my two daughters and then my son right in here in this playpen. >> new york's child services agency has told melissa that she's endangering her kids by keeping them here. >> how does your grandmother feel about you living right here in her living room? >> she hates it. >> her grandmother is also at risk of losing her housing subsidy. but still, she says the city has denied her shelter application seven times. melissa works as a door-to-door saleswoman. but she only makes about $400 a month. >> have you ever had to sleep on the streets? >> not with my kids, thank god. i have gone through it on my own, when i was 16, and i don't want that life for them. so um' [crying] sorry.
>> just thinking about that they could be in the situation that i was in before. knowing that i'm by myself. there's a lot things that i would love to have but it's too expensive. i don't make enough to get any of those things. it is new york there's a lot of rich people here. they want to make the city for people that can afford things, you know. forget about the people that can't afford it. they're just going to have to leave the city. that's how i see it. >> one in five new yorkers lives below the federal poverty line. meanwhile, housing costs continue to soar. median rents have risen by 8.5 percent, but median incomes have dropped by 7 percent.
tawana little has lived in new york for her whole life. but for over a year, she and her kids have been forced to live in shelter. >> when it came down to the ending of my lease that was a prime opportunity for the landlord to say 'okay, we don't want this program in here anymore.' >> tawana depended on a state program that helped her pay the rent. when her landord raised the price, she was evicted. >> he just wanted higher rents? >> he wanted higher rents. >> so your rent for that place is now gone up to $2200? >> $2200. yes. >> could you afford that? >> oh absolutely not. >> tawana is looking for an apartment she can afford. it's a search that's taken her far outside the city - an hour and a half bus ride to middletown new york. we met her in middletown. but the broker who'd agreed to show her around cancelled. >> so i'm just really, in a really bad emotional place right now. i'm not feeling the greatest. i feel like it was just a pure waste of time. >> to salvage the trip
she decided to look anyway. >> what's it like doing this search while you're in a shelter? is it hard? >> when you're in the shelter, it's doubly hard. you're not really comfortable. but i tell you i would rather come out here and take a look and get my family out of that circumstance opposed to sitting there not doing anything. >> do you see yourself living here? >> no. i don't know. i don't know yet. >> do you know people here? >> no, not at all. >> do you have a lot of friends and family in new york? >> in the city yeah. absolutely. that's where i grew up at. so i know my areas. >> do you feel like you've been forced to leave the city? >> with the rents, with the rents as high as they are? yes. middle class people in the city are not being really catered to. they're busting their behinds working every day constantly to the point where they're not even sleeping you know. and if they miss a paycheck, then there's a possibility they can be where i am.
and that's the realism of it. >> for more "faultlines" check out on demand or visit aljazeera.com/faultlines. >> "the stream". >> your digital community. >> you pick the hot topics and express your thoughts. "the stream", it's your chance to join the conversation. tuesday to friday, 3:30 eastern. only on al jazeera america.
>> whose city? >> our city! >> whose city? >> our city! >> what do we want? >> affordable housing! >> what do we want? >> affordable housing! >> when do we want it? >> now! >> we're in the middle of a rally with hundreds of new yorkers from east new york a working class neighborhood in brooklyn. people here are demanding that at least half of the new houses built here are affordable for them. >> they want to push these people out because apartments are going to be so high. they not going to be able to afford it. >> under its last mayor michael bloomberg, new york city lost more than a third of apartments considered
affordable to poor families. >> what we're seeing now is the effects of 20 years of housing policy. twenty years of people little by little being pushed out. no attempt to house these human beings. >> homelessness is the number is rising everyday. >> there's a lot of homelessness right here? >> right here. right here. people are getting priced out, pushed to out of state. >> new york city under the bloomberg administration eliminated entirely the permanent housing programs which were designed to help homeless families and children leave the shelter system. >> under bloomberg the number of people in homeless shelters each night went from 31 thousand to 54 thousand. >> essentially what we had was a massive social experiment to test the proposition that if you take away permanent housing assistance from the neediest children and families in our city what will happen?
>> how you gonna have high rents, and no good jobs? >> every day in this city, people are losing their homes. if we do not act new york risks taking on the qualities of a gated community. >> mayor bill de blasio was elected in 2013 on a promise to reverse new york's growing economic inequality. >> the city has for decades let developers write their own rules when it came to building housing. this administration is taking a fundamentally different approach. >> de blasio has vowed to create and preserve 200 thousand affordable units. his plan relies on tax incentives to developers. >> if you're a developer if you set aside 20 percent of those units for low-income folks, the city will give you tax breaks on that property. >> robert robinson is a housing advocate who's formerly homeless.
>> i would challenge mayor de blasio and say your plan is no different than bloomberg's plan. eighty percent market rate twenty percent low income. the more you create housing like that you're saturating the market with market-rate housing. developers in this city, they want to profit as much as they can. so their heart is not into building houses for poor people. that's not their goal. their goal is to get market rate rents. >> new york's largest existing stock of affordable housing is the one million aparments that are rent-regulated under state law. but the trend is clear: since the early eighties nearly twenty percent of these have been converted to market rate. shanequa charles has lived in a rent-stabilized apartment in the bronx since 1988. by law her landlord can only raise her rent a small percentage each year. but if she moves out
he can raise the rent by twenty percent. >> this area is going through gentrification right. so that's no secret. i mean the writing is on the wall. if you can get these buildings from being rent-stabilized then you can charge $2500 a month, $3000 a month eventually. >> shanequa says she's never missed a rent payment. but six months ago she received an eviction order from her landlord. >> that was the most helpless feeling i've ever, ever experienced actually. yeah it was pretty bad. >> what was your biggest fear at that moment? >> being homeless. and you don't think rationally when um' you don't think rationally when you think you're going to lose your home. >> the number one cause of family homelessness in new york is eviction. in 2012, more than one third of families who applied for shelter had recently been evicted. >> we've got 33,000
people who've been evicted across new york city in the last two years. 33,000 families! >> shanequa's building has 50 code violations. >> the apartment was full of lead um there were like holes in the walls, the bathroom ceiling almost collapsed. this will probably fall down at any minute... >> last spring she asked for repairs. one day a crew arrived and demolished her bathroom. >> my daughter came in and i recorded her. she was like "what is this!" >> how am i gonna take my bath? >> i don't know. >> it makes me angry. >> it makes you angry? >> yeah! >> why does it make you angry? >> because it's like ruined! >> it's ruined. >> it's really ruined. >> hopefully the landlord will fix it right? >> we didn't have a bathroom for over a month. we were like packing our bags every night to find somewhere to bathe. it's frustrating because my rent is paid. >> owners are not viewed favorably by anybody. i think we are probably
somewhere in the bottom, next to real estate agents or bankers. >> joseph strasburg is the president of the rent stabilization association, a lobbying group for landlords. >> every economist will tell you that any artificial controls do not work. >> explain this to me. you're called the rent stabilization association, but you're opposed to rent stabilization? >> that's correct. that's correct. government requires so many rules and regulations that they impose on owners. many of them are small property owners not very sophisticated. >> but you know, even with all these regulations, there's still this constant flow of people who are getting evicted. and i'm just wondering what you would say to a homeless family that was evicted out of a rent-stabilized building >> oh, well if they've been paying the rent, how did they get evicted? >> just in the past month we've met so many families who... >> but if they've been paying their rent, there is no way they could be evicted. if they were evicted it was done illegally.
but owners they're not in the business of providing social services. that's government's responsibility. >> every day we read stories about repairs not being done people being harassed. they don't get heat. they don't get hot water. gentrification doesn't just happen. it is a system and it is done systematically. there are ways to legally push people out. it's only illegal when you get caught. >> for more "faultlines" check out on demand or visit aljazeera.com/faultlines. >> weeknights on al jazeera america. >> join me as we bring you an in-depth look at the most important issues of the day. breaking it down. getting you the facts. it's the only place you'll find... the inside story. >> ray suarez hosts "inside story". weeknights, 11:30 eastern. on al jazeera america.
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>> we're at a tenants meeting called by keisha jacobs, who lives in this building. >> i could be homeless too. any one of us could have something happens and we lose money, lose an apartment. anyone of us could find ourselves without our home. >> the building is rent stabilized. but keisha was the last paying tenant to move in. >> people told us when they were leaving. they were like 'this building is about to change drastically.' >> she started to notice bunk beds and mattresses being moved into the building so she asked the building supervisor what was happening. >> he was like 'oh those are for the people.' i said 'what people?' and so he was like 'oh for the shelter people.' >> the city was turning keisha's building into a type of homeless shelter known as a cluster site - a privately owned building that shelters homeless families. >> they're housing families in need of emergency shelter in my building. >> the city created cluster sites over a decade ago. as homelessness grew mayor bloomberg increasingly
favored paying private landlords for shelter. >> the folks who own this building are really making lots of money from these people. >> keisha's landlord is a prominent real estate family called the podolskys. they own about 40 cluster shelters. since 2010 the city has paid them over 90 million dollars to house homeless families. four of their shelters are in keisha's neighborhood. >> so this is pretty typical. door wide open. broken-into and broken mailboxes. my building is owned by the same people who own this building. and we're trying to improve the conditions in the buildings that he owns. you know this guy thinks that because the families are homeless they have no power. and just because a family is in crisis doesn't mean that you should be making millions of dollars off of me. >> the cost of living has skyrocketed. you know what i mean? and then i got to pay utilities, then i have two kids. and i have to get to work and i
have to buy food. >> do you know how much does the city pays for these apartments? >> our budget letter shows that. which is basically what they pay for our rent pretty much like the breakdown. >> the money that public assistance is paying for us to stay here? that could be given to us in vouchers and to find better places to live. >> i'm sure you know how much the city is paying to house families in crisis. >> this is shaquana ryan. ten months ago she and her family applied for shelter. the city moved them into this apartment. >> so what's this? >> this is the budget letter. >> every month shaquana receives a budget letter from the city. >> is this how much money the city is paying your landlord? >> yeah. >> for this apartment? it's $2,700 $2737.50. that's a lot of money. >> yep. >> do you think this apartment is worth that much? >> nope, no way.
>> shaquana's building has 115 open code violations. that's an average of five violations per unit. she says she has asked for repairs, but she's still waiting. >> the windows ain't fixed. the first hallway light don't come on. the socket in the kitchen is not even covered up. >> right now about a quarter of all homeless families with children each night are sleeping in these cluster night shelters essentially sleeping in apartments and we the taxpayers are paying a ridiculous amount of money for that. >> what would you do with that money, if the city gave you that much money? >> get a better apartment. if they paying $2,700 for me to stay here, they might as well pay $2,700 for me to get my own apartment. >> do you think other people in the building are paying $2700? >> no. >> how much do you think they're paying? >> less than that. i don't think $2,700. >> i want folks to understand that if it wasn't for this program,
that because this apartment is rent-stabilized, you could possibly just afford to be living here. >> wait a minute. so paying tenants in the building the average rent is $900 dollars. >> right. >> and the city is paying up to three thousand dollars? >> yes. >> for the same apartments? >> yes. >> it seems so ridiculous that you would remove affordable housing stock from working families to house people in crisis and then turn a profit. why are people looking for a shelter elsewhere? when they're already in a dwelling that's rent stabilized? it doesn't make any sense to me. >> when mayor de blasio was elected, he promised to phase out cluster sites. but in the last year his administration has actually added 225 cluster units. >> we are facing high numbers and we have to ensure that everyone is safely placed. >> camille rivera is the deputy commissioner of new york's department of homeless services.
it's the agency that oversees the city's shelters. >> tell me about the cluster site program. >> what about the cluster site program? >> the cluster site shelters. it seems like the city is paying private landlords quite a bit of money for these apartments. >> actually i would disagree with that, we're working, we've worked over the past year and half since the new administration first came into office to reduce our reliance on clusters. >> but last year the city actually increased the number of cluster units by 8 percent. >> we still reduced our reliance on it. >> what do you mean by that? >> meaning that we are focusing more on purposeful built shelters shelters that provide more robust social services for our families with children. >> a lot of the families we've spoken to, we've seen their letters and they're saying the landlord is getting paid $2,700 and there's people in the building paying rents of $500 to $1,000 dollars. >> the letters that people get include what is called social services and aftercare component. so it's not something that we're paying the landlord that amount of rent. and i think that that is
something that's out there that's not true. >> how much of that $3,000 or whatever the amount is ends up going to landlords? is there a formula? >> there is a formula. we're not going to discuss that formula. >> let me tell you about one woman we met. she has two little kids. in her building there are nearly five violations per unit. what is dhs doing about buildings that have these open code violations? >> we work with our sister agencies we work with our providers to make sure they get fixed. >> i mean, the families were concerned that... >> okay, we're moving on. >> just last question. families were concerned... >> we're moving on. >> they've created a situation where they can't sort of back out of this program. they need it um because they need to have housing for homeless people. but they've privatized it. and so once you do that, you know you've made a deal with the devil now. >> we don't need any more buildings turning into shelters. we need housing. >> it's been two months since we
met tawana little. she's still living in shelter, and looking for an apartment she can afford. >> you have to come up with your own scenarios as far as how you're gonna get yourself out of this situation. because you really don't have much support. i really don't think that they've put much effort into understanding what this crisis is. i think that they're throwing money at it, hence where all of these shelters are coming up from, cause they're constantly throwing money at things. but they're really not getting into what the problem is and dealing with the issue. >> you can keep finding places to warehouse bodies. doesn't end the problem. it doesn't work toward a solution that might end the problem. >> in 2014 the overall number of families in shelter rose by thirteen percent. >> money is being made.
it is just like the homeless population might as well be traded on the stock market. how much are the homeless worth? what we know about in this city and in this country... if something is really costing you money you do something about it. >> for more "faultlines" check out on demand or visit aljazeera.com/faultlines. >> america's first climate refugees >> this is probably a hurricane away from it being gone. >> who's to blame? >> 36% of land lost was caused by oil and gas industry... >> ...and a fight to save america's coastline. >> we have kinda made a deal with the devil >> fault lines al jazeera america's hard hitting... >> today they will be arrested...
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