Posted by: Ray Brescia | March 11, 2013

A New “One Percent” in New York City: Inequality, Homelessness, and a Need for Smarter Solutions

Ever since the homelessness crisis of the 1980s, New York City has always been a study in opposites.  Back then, it was not uncommon to walk past bejeweled display windows on Fifth Avenue, which hawked domestic and sartorial perfection at a premium, while the homeless sagged underfoot, their marketing efforts consisting mostly of hastily scrawled notes on cardboard.  Since the decade of Tom Wolfe’s  Bonfire of the Vanities, little has changed in terms of the wealth disparities in the Big City.

A report released last year by city Comptroller John C. Liu showed that NYC’s income divide is far greater than that of the nation as a whole:

In 2009, the top 1 percent of national filers realized 16.9 percent of the nation’s adjusted gross income,  whereas New York City’s top 1 percent realized 32.3 percent of the city’s total personal income. Conversely, the nation’s bottom 50 percent of filers realized 13.5 percent of the nation’s total personal income, while the bottom 50 percent in New York City realized only 9.9 percent of the city’s.

Meanwhile, the homeless population has mostly moved indoors, so that the shelter population has grown considerably in recent years.  A report released by the Coalition for the Homeless reveals this trend.  Giving a whole new meaning to the term “The One Percent,” one percent of the city’s children slept in a shelter in January.

Skyrocketing rents are just one cause of the rise in the homeless population.  A still stubborn employment market is another.

With the City poised to spend $800 million in sheltering its poorest residents, new solutions are needed to combat homelessness and income inequality in New York City and around the nation.  The Coalition’s report calls for more affordable housing, more supportive housing, and better access to emergency shelter.  Ultimately though, long-term solutions for homelessness–like creative funding approaches like Social Impact Bonds and meaningful job opportunities centered around infrastructure, Sandy relief and disaster preparedness–might prove more cost effective and far more humane than repeating the dead-end, shelter-driven solutions of the past.  New York City will have a new mayor come January 2014. Number one on that mayor’s agenda, no matter who he or she is, must be combating NYC’s inequality problem and the homelessness it generates.

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