A Tale Of New York's Thoroughly Corrupt Advocacy Community

Bill de Blasio has been our Mayor for almost a year, and if you are a typical (meaning "progressive" and ridiculously naïve) New Yorker you very likely think that he must have started to make some progress against the scourges that he talks about so endlessly like poverty, income inequality, homelessness, and so forth.  Without doubt, the tide of stories in the mainstream press complaining about inadequacy of City efforts on these issues has greatly ebbed.  Surely, that must be an indication that something is working.

Of course, the truth is exactly the opposite.  What's actually going on is that de Blasio is making income inequality, homelessness, etc. worse by his progressive policies, but the advocacy organizations and the complicit press are refraining from criticizing him precisely because more income inequality and more homelessness are the best things that could happen for their business.

The Wall Street Journal (and thank God we have them) puts a fairly deep scratch in the surface of this issue with an article in yesterday's Greater New York section by Mara Gay titled "Antipoverty Groups Give Mayor Wide Berth."   Gay reports on various groups that spent the previous 12 years going after Mayor Bloomberg but now can't be heard to say a critical word about de Blasio.  Groups that Gay identifies as having suddenly gone silent on de Blasio range from the New York City Mission Society, to The Black Institute, to The Children's Aid Society, to the Coalition for the Homeless, to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, and several more.  For example, here is Joel Berg of the Coalition Against Hunger:

Mr. Berg said it “makes no sense” to criticize the mayor over a single issue when he had “done more for our issues in the last year than his two predecessors did in the previous two decades.”

Or Mary Brosnahan of the Coalition for the Homeless, questioned as to why her group has not criticized the City over the case of a 3-year-old kid who was beaten to death in a homeless shelter:

Ms. Brosnahan, of the Coalition for the Homeless, said in a phone interview that her group’s response to inquiries about Jeida’s death was “more a matter of logistics,” which were challenging because she was receiving conflicting reports about the incident.

So if de Blasio is "doing more for these issues" than his predecessors have done in decades, what is the measurable progress?  As to poverty and income inequality, those numbers come from the Census Bureau with big lags, so we don't yet have them for the de Blasio era.  But not so for homelessness, where New York City puts out up-to-the-minute numbers regularly.  From another article in the Wall Street Journal Greater New York section, this one by Laura Kusisto today:

The city put the number of people sleeping in its homeless shelters at 58,562 as of Nov. 20, including more than 25,000 children. A year ago, the population was 51,110.

Yes, that would be a 14.5% increase in the homeless shelter population in the less-than-one-year of de Blasio's tenure.  Some would call that an "explosion."  What's going on?

It's not too hard to figure it out.  Here's the back story.  New York's subsidized NYCHA public housing, approximately 170,000 units, has a waiting list of over 200,000 families.  But since nobody ever leaves, only about 5000 families get in off the waiting list each year.  Some people (e.g., victims of domestic violence) get priorities on the waiting list, and given the length of the list, if you don't have one of these priorities you are never going to get in.  Back in the early part of the Bloomberg administration, the City gave priority on the waiting list to families that had been determined to be "homeless."  That created a scramble among thinking low-income people to get themselves into homeless shelters in order to claim the priority.  In 2005 the Bloomberg administration figured out what was going on and ended the priority for those in homeless shelters.  From the WSJ November 24:

In 2005, Mr. de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg , ended the policy of giving the homeless priority for NYCHA apartments. The Bloomberg administration argued that giving preference to homeless families encouraged people to enter shelters to jump to the front of the line on the public-housing waiting list.

That Bloomberg administration policy was reversed by the Housing Authority in July 2014.  The Daily News reported it here, saying that the reversal was done "quietly" and "during a special meeting that was not listed on a public schedule."  Kudos to the Daily News for picking up on it promptly.

Of course, the inevitable has occurred.  Poor people may be poor but they are not stupid.  A subsidized NYCHA apartment could well be worth the equivalent of $50,000 annual income or more.  The scramble is back on to become "homeless" and get to the top of the NYCHA list.  The homeless shelter population is surging.

And how do they feel about this over at the Coalition for the Homeless?  Do you think they would be horrified by policies that cause a surge in homelessness?  If so, then you really need a little understanding of what this organization and its ilk are about.  For some insights, check out their most recent Annual Report here.  Do you think that they actually provide housing to the homeless?  Puh-lease.  Here are a few key facts:

  • Their total annual budget is about $10 million.
  • The total amount they spent on "housing" is a big $718,675.  Contrast that to the amounts they spend annually on "advocacy" ($1,184,399), "fund raising" ($981,267) and "management and general" ($350,224).  In short, these people do not deem it a worthy use of their own money to house the homeless; instead they lobby to have you be forced to spend your money on housing the homeless.
  • Of the $10 million budget, about $3.1 million comes from "government grants."  Likely these are for some specific purpose, but still it's the same corporate entity whose core focus is lobbying to have the government spend more money on services to the homeless.  Am I the only one in the world who thinks that's just not OK?

Meanwhile, the budget of public funds of the New York City Department of Homeless Services is over $1 billion.  In other words, the extent, if any, to which the Coalition for the Homeless actually provides some meaningful services to the homeless with its own funds is completely insignificant in the overall picture.  That's not what they're about.  What they're about is lobbying for more government funds for homeless programs, some small part of which they can then skim off for themselves.

And for that purpose they are always better off with more homeless people rather than fewer.  That's why, when push comes to shove, you can find them advocating for policies that they know will drive up the number of homeless, like public housing priority for those in shelters.  As long as their buddy de Blasio is in office and the homeless services budgets balloon along with the number of homeless, they'll keep their criticisms to themselves.  As soon as someone comes in who actually tries to decrease the number of homeless, or get some of the homeless into a life free of government dependency, or -- God forbid -- get some control over the budgets spent on the homeless, then these people will scream bloody murder.