de Blasio Photo: Kevin Case/Flickr 

Every night in New York, nearly 35,000 adults and 25,000 children sleep in homeless shelters. That’s a 10 percent jump since Mayor de Blasio took office and an exponential jump over the last few decades.

Mayor de Blasio is hoping to fight this trend with the introduction of a new tactic: investing in tenant rights. 

He’s planning a $12.3 million investment in free legal services for tenants facing eviction or harassment by unscrupulous landlords. De Blasio explains that thousands of tenants have gone to court to face inappropriate evictions, but were unsuccessful due to lack of representation, and still others never even sought legal recourse at all for this reason.

By July 2017, the City plans to have raised its initial investment to over $60 million –10 times the amount the city invested in 2013. This amount is expected to give over 113,000 citizens legal services each year, protecting them against harassment and unnecessary eviction.

De Blasio sees the rising homelessness in the city as a symptom of an incomplete economic recovery after the Great Recession.

“[After the recession,] many people continued to be mired in poverty or to lack opportunity. Some people even saw their economic circumstances get worse during time that was supposed to be a recovery,” he said.

At the same time, housing costs were skyrocketing and the city was feeling the effects of wage stagnation.

The City will still maintain numerous initiatives to move families out of shelters, but this initiative hopes to prevent them from ever entering them. In de Blasio’s first year at City Hall, 13,302 people entered shelters while only 7,978 exited. That’s a very similar rate to Bloomberg’s last year, when 11,754 entered and 7,559 exited. Keeping families in their homes–especially in rent-controlled and rent-stabilized units–should have a huge effect on the number of families finding themselves in danger of housing instability.

At the moment, nearly half of New Yorkers are hovering near the poverty line and more than half are considered rent-burdened, meaning that more than a third of their income goes to rent.

Mayor de Blasio shed some light on the danger of these economic realities.

“Recent study found that more than half of New Yorkers don’t have adequate savings for an emergency. So that simply means one bad break – lost job, or a serious illness, or an accident could start a spiral that leads to homelessness,” he said.

The mayor is betting that economic policies that stress affordable housing will help to reverse that outcome. Follow @bbhnyc for more on NYC urban development.

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