6 Ways the 7th Richest Man in America Has Screwed the Poor

Mayor Michael Bloomberg leaves behind one of the biggest wealth gaps in the country.

March 22, 2013  |  

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The following piece is part of AlterNet’s series on poverty, Hard Times, USA. 

Earlier this month, Mayor Michael Bloomberg perfectly described a day in the life of your average homeless New Yorker. “You can arrive in your private jet at Kennedy Airport, take a private limousine and go straight to the shelter system and walk in the door and we’ve got to give you shelter,” he said on his radio show, addressing the record rate of homelessness in the city. 

50,000 people, including 21,000 children, are currently crowded into the city’s emergency shelters, a 61 percent rise from when the Mayor took office, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. 

Last month, the Mayor had assured reporters that “Nobody’s sleeping on the streets,” a claim easily refuted by a look at the city’s homelessness statistics and/or going outside in New York. As it turns out, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) had recently suspended a program making it easier for homeless families to get into shelters when the temperature dips below freezing. The DHS did not share this information widely; it came to light after a New York Daily News report highlighted the case of 23 year-old Junior Clarke, who told the News that he, his wife, and 4 year-old daughter were turned away from the city’s intake center on a freezing day. When they refused to leave, staff threatened to call the police. 

“They tried to make us leave and we refused,” Clarke  told the Daily News.  “You know some people leave, walk away and go sleep on the train with their families.” 

As the 7th richest man in America finishes his final term in office, he leaves behind one of the biggest wealth gaps in the country:  income inequality in Manhattan is the second worst in the US, according to the New York Times. New York’s poverty rate has risen to the highest level in a decade, the Times also noted. 1 in 3 New York kids live below the poverty line. In parts of the Bronx, two thirds of residents live in areas of extreme poverty

At the start of his second term, the Mayor raised the hopes of advocates for the poor by expanding the definition of poverty to account for the high cost of living in the city. But as sociologist Francis Fox Piven  told the Gotham Gazette, “If we thought a new measure would mean more generous policies, we were wrong.” 

In fact, many Mayoral actions have significantly worsened the lives of the poor. Here’s a look at some of his greatest hits. 

1. Booting Homeless Families from Priority Access to Housing Aid

At the start of his second term, the Mayor promised to reduce the rate of individual and family homelessness in the city by two-thirds in 5 years. Today, there are as many homeless New Yorkers as during the height of the Great Depression, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. The Mayor blames the recession and, strangely, the Coalition for the Homeless itself, but homelessness advocates point to a series of ill-advised policy decisions that separated homeless families from the government aid that had kept many of them housed. 

In 2005, the administration cut homeless families’ priority access to Section 8 federal housing aid. In its place, DHS came up with Housing Stability Plus, a program designed to fire up homeless families’ magic bootstrap powers by making aid temporary and contingent on work requirements. Families were only eligible if they were on Public Assistance but they also had to work, which counterproductively meant that if one parent got a full-time job they could lose their housing. A 2007 Coalition report found that families were being funneled into  slumlord properties, where kids could build character by overcoming hardships like rat infestations and lead in the walls. The Advantage program, another impermanent rental subsidy that restricted rental help to 2 years, followed. Despite the administration’s efforts, the rate of homelessness continued to climb as families ran out of Advantage subsidies without substantially improving their economic situation and had no choice but to return to shelter.