On Homelessness, de Blasio has the 'Advantage'
by Anthony Stasi
Sep 04, 2013 | 1645 views | 0 0 comments | 133 133 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As of Labor Day weekend, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is leading all Democrats in the race for mayor heading into the primary on September 10.

He feels that he can revive the Advantage Program, which was helpful in New York’s fight against homelessness. The program went away a couple of years ago when the state said that it would no longer fund it.

The issue of homelessness is not a front page issue in this primary, but de Blasio has a track record here. De Blasio worked for Mayor David Dinkins, when the Department of Homeless Services was basically developed. He then went on to work at HUD.

This was 20 years ago, when another homeless advocate, Andrew Cuomo, was active in the fight. De Blasio claims to have a unique relationship with Cuomo that would give him more bargaining room for programs like Advantage, which offers rental assistance for people who leave shelters and need help living on their own.

When the program was in full swing, people who were leaving homeless shelters were required to pay 30 to 40 percent of their rent, with the city footing the rest of the bill. It meant that, although people were getting a lot of help, they were also paying a large chunk of their own rent. It gave them a sense of responsibility when it came to their housing situation.

There is no question that the program worked. It kept people out of crowded shelters, and it allowed for apartments to be rented with landlords getting consistent rent. People in the Advantage Program had up to two years to become independent, so it was not a lifestyle program.

De Blasio feels that Bloomberg could have negotiated a better deal with Albany to keep it going. But Bloomberg took this issue seriously as well.

The mayor entered office with an aggressive plan to cut homelessness, and his commissioners and staff have been dedicated. If de Blasio is serious about bringing the Advantage Program back, all eyes will be on him to deliver should he get to City Hall.

Everyone knows Mayor Bloomberg is a tough negotiator, and de Blasio feels that he can work better with Cuomo than Bloomberg has on this issue. He does have one thing to his advantage: he is likable. He can soften a debate.

Unlike Bloomberg, where the room stands at attention when he arrives, the room exhales when the 6’5” de Blasio walks in. Whether that means he can get more out of Albany, however, is a still a question. But the real question is what does “making a clean break from the Bloomberg years” mean?

De Blasio may see a clean break as pressing the “reset” button on relationships that have jeopardized certain programs for the city.

Bill de Blasio knows the issue of homelessness better than most candidates. He is hanging his hat on bringing back a program that Bloomberg could not resurrect. He is banking on a like-minded City Council and a like-minded governor.

Four weeks ago, banking on de Blasio was a nutty idea, but it was not nutty to de Blasio. Famous movie producer Robert Evans used to say that a true gambler was one who bet more than he could afford to lose.

If de Blasio, Bill Thompson, Joe Lhota or any other mayoral candidate thinks they can bring back a program like Advantage, they are going to need a strong poker face. So far, de Blasio has rolled up to the table and anted up.
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