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Seven Housing Suggestions for New York City
We need alternatives to NYCHA and rules that make sense
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The Morningside Heights Legal Services Clinic is a group of Columbia University Law students who provide legal services to youth in or aging out of foster care. Their clients’ top problem is housing, so the clinic members have researched and are writing a report about how more youth aging out can land in a home they like and can keep.

We talked to Shannon Cleary, who is the head of the 13-person team writing the report. The report will be published in the summer, and the team plans to present it to New York City Council members as well as New York’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), and Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Housing. Shannon gave us a preview of the report’s recommendations, which are based on information from the youth the law students serve and from interviews with other young people who are aging out or have aged out of care. The first three suggestions she shared are for public housing.

1. The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) should expand the definition of “family.” Shannon explains, “Youth aging out of care usually apply for a NYCHA apartment alone because the rules say it has to be a family unit. But if you’ve grown up with a foster sibling you know you can live with, you should be able to apply to live together.”

2. The NYCHA application process should be simpler and more transparent. “NYCHA has too many hoops to jump through,” Shannon says. “If you make one mistake on your application or miss a mailing they can ‘dead’ your application. The whole process needs to be simplified. Foster kids now get on the highest priority waitlist for NYCHA apartments, but even with that, the wait can be years. They won’t tell you how long the waitlist is, or where you are on the waitlist.” Not having any idea how long before you’ll get an apartment makes it impossible to plan for the rest of your life.

3. Let young people live near each other. “NYCHA has special sections for the elderly,” Shannon says, and suggests that there be sections especially for 21- to 24-year-olds who were in care to keep them from feeling isolated.

If not NYCHA, most youth aging out of care in New York City are directed to supportive housing (subsidized housing with caseworkers and therapists on staff), like New York New York III. The Morningside Heights team has ideas for that, too.

image by YC-Art Dept

4. Don’t make everyone take the psych evaluation. To enter supportive housing, you must take a long psychological exam even if you’re not seeking psych services. “If a person doesn’t want those services and hasn’t had any mental health issues for the past five years, they shouldn’t have to take those tests,” Shannon says.

Finally, the team thinks more foster youth should think outside the NYCHA and supportive housing boxes. If enough young people band together, they can afford an apartment or house and split the cost of rent and utilities. Here are a few things that would make that easier:

5. Loosen the lease requirements. Shannon says, “ACS gives a little money to people aging out and they often require a formal lease. But if you’re renting a room in a friend’s home, you might not have that lease. You should still get to use that money.”

6. Help young people find roommates. It’s not always easy to find compatible roommates. So why not, Shannon says, create an online network for youth aging out? “You won’t necessarily live with someone you just met online, but it could connect people who are looking for apartments to at least meet and see if they might get along,” Shannon explains.

7. ACS should pay for college until graduation. One of the best paths to financial independence and living where you want to live is college—plus a dorm is a place to live. Shannon says, “Currently ACS pays for housing while you’re in college until you turn 21, but many foster youth don’t start college right away or take longer than four years to graduate. We think that support shouldn’t stop in the middle of your schooling.“

The report will be available this summer. Check with the Morningside Heights Clinic at 212-854-3123 for the publication date and to get a copy of the report.

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(FCYU-2015-04-26)

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