New Yorkers will be saddened, but not surprised, by the title of a New York Times article, “1 in 7 New York City Elementary Students Will Be Homeless, Report Says.” Despite promises to the contrary, homelessness has climbed to record levels under Mayor Bill de Blasio, and there are now over 100,000 homeless students each year within the New York City Department of Education. Decisive action is needed.
A report by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness reveals that in the coming school year, two to three children per class will likely be homeless. Aside from the dangers and hardships of living without a permanent home, homeless children are also robbed of an education and miss an average 88 days of school a year, or one-third of the school year. Understandably, these students are far less likely to graduate than the average student, and extremely unlikely to go on to higher education.
Of course, these students are not distributed equally amongst school districts, placing additional burdens on an increasingly segregated public school system. Richer districts like Bayside in Queens, with a median income over $95,000, recorded just 823 homeless students, while District 10 in the Bronx, one of the city’s poorest districts, served over 10,000 such students. Districts like this one are already low on resources and struggling to meet ever-increasing demands without a corresponding increase in funding from the city.
The report notes that increasing child homelessness represents the “fallout [from] the city’s housing crisis.” Wages have not risen to meet increasing rental prices, with homelessness as the result. De Blasio’s plan to open 90 new homeless shelters does nothing but guarantee that the current rise in homelessness will be institutionalized, given that anyone who lives in a homeless shelter is still homeless. A better solution would be to tax Wall Street and developers to build publicly-owned housing that could rapidly house tens of thousands of homeless families and children, without the bureaucracy and red tape of working through the market-based housing system.
Solving the growing homeless crisis is linked to addressing the crisis in affordable housing. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers are in danger of being forced out of their apartments by rising rents, and the federal government is committed to destroying public housing. The Department for Housing and Urban Development’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget request would result in a loss of approximately $330 to $466 million in operating funds for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which as Socialist Alternative NYC has written previously is in critical condition.
De Blasio campaigned for mayor in 2013 with promises to tackle homelessness, but has since greatly lowered expectations about what can be achieved. His most recent estimate suggests he can reduce the homeless population by only 2,500 over four years, which is less than 5% of the total number of homeless people in the city.
Furthermore, a report issued by the Real Affordability for All coalition shows that of 77,650 units of “affordable” housing built or preserved under the de Blasio plan, only 14% of units had rents targeted at the city’s own standard of affordability for low-income households (those earning about $25,770 for a family of three). Only 33% of those units were newly constructed; 67% of the units claimed by de Blasio were “preserved” by repairs on existing affordable units, or the renewal of lapsing affordable housing agreements. The preference for profit-driven luxury development over affordable housing for working families is clear in this plan. To really deal with the crisis would require breaking with the dominant views of big business, and mobilizing the working class to fight for policies that challenge the power of developers.
We can’t rely on establishment politicians like de Blasio who campaign on promises to fight for working people, but take millions of dollars in campaign cash from developers and big business. It is clearly time for an alternative based on rejecting establishment politics, while mobilizing the growing anger of ordinary people through mass movements, independent politics, and demands that put the needs of people before the profits of developers and Wall Street investors.