POST PANDEMIC SHIFT IN HOMELESS SHELTER POLICIES

We’ve all been hit hard by the pandemic but Americans living in poverty and Americans of color have been among the hardest hit. In the Bronx as well as in other parts of NYC, the economic impact has been devastating. But the question is- Can anything be done about it? New York Congressman Ritchie Torres says “yes”. He joins us tonight to discuss his focused efforts in Washington onto fighting homelessness, child poverty and gun violence.

Aired on July 29, 2021. 

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M RAFAEL P. ROMAN.

MOST OF US HAVE BEEN HIT HARD BY THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC.

BUT OF COURSE THE HARDEST HIT HAVE BEEN AMERICANS LIVING IN POVERTY AND PARTICULARLY AMERICANS OF COLOR LIVING IN POVERTY.

IN THE BRONX AS WELL AS IN OTHER PARTS OF NEW YORK CITY, THE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL IMPACT OF THE PANDEMIC HAS BEEN DEVASTATING.

BUT THE QUESTION IS CAN ANYTHING OF PERMANENCY BE DONE ABOUT THAT?

NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN RICHEY TOREZ WHO REPRESENTS THE 15th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT IN THE BRONX BELIEVED THAT IT CAN.

HE HAS FOCUSSED MOST OF HIS ENERGY IN WASHINGTON, D.C.

AGAINST FIGHTING THREE OF THE EVILS THAT PREDATE AND HAVE BEEN AGGRAVATED BY THE PANDEMIC, HOMELESSNESS, CHILD POVERTY AND GUN VIOLENCE.

JOINING US NOW TO TALK ABOUT HIS EFFORTS IS CONGRESSMAN RICHEY TOREZ.

ALWAYS A PLEASURE TO BE HERE.

SO, CONGRESSMAN, YOU, ALONG WITH CONGRESSWOMAN MAX ZONE WATERS HAVE INTRODUCED A BILL CALLED THE ENDING HOMELESSNESS ACT OF 2021.

THAT'S A BOLD TITLE.

BUT WHAT EXACTLY DOES THE BILL AIM TO DO?

HOW EXACTLY ARE YOU GOING TO HELP END HOMELESSNESS?

WELL, HERE IN NEW YORK CITY, THERE ARE MORE THAN 50,000 PEOPLE IN OUR SHELTER SYSTEM.

A THIRD OF WHOM WERE CHILDREN.

SO LET THAT SINK IN FOR A MOMENT.

THERE ARE CHILDREN GROWING UP IN THE WEALTHIEST CITY AND COUNTRY IN THE WORLD WHO HAVE NEVER KNOWN LIFE OUTSIDE OF SHELTER.

AND AMERICA IS BECOMING SO DANGEROUSLY UNAFFORDABLE THAT THERE ARE SEVEN MILLION AMERICANS, INCLUDING HALF A MILLION NEW YORKERS WHO ARE BEHIND ON THEIR RENT AND WHO FACE AN IMMINENT DANGER OF EVICTION THE MOMENT THE MORATORIUM EXPIRES.

EVEN WORSE, ACCORDING TO THE NATIONAL LOW-INCOME HOUSING COALITION, THERE IS NOT A SINGLE COUNTY IN AMERICA WHERE A FULL-TIME LOW-WAGE WORKER CAN AFFORD A TWO-BEDROOM APARTMENT.

AND THERE WERE ONLY 7 OUT OF 3,000 COUNTIES WHERE A FULL-TIME MINIMUM WAGE WORKER CAN AFFORD A ONE BEDROOM APARTMENT.

THE GOVERNMENT DEFINES AN AFFORDABLE RENT AS NO MORE THAN 30% OF YOUR INCOME.

AFFORDING TO THE HARVARD JOINT CENTER ON HOUSING STUDIES, THERE ARE 37 MILLION AMERICANS WHO PAY MORE THAN A THIRD OF THEIR INCOME TOWARD THEIR RENT.

HALF OF THOSE AMERICANS PAY HALF OF THEIR INCOME TOWARD THEIR RENT, PUTTING THEM AT HEIGHTENED RISK OF DISPLACEMENT AND EVICTION AND GENTRIFICATION.

SO I AM INTRODUCING LEGISLATION THAT WOULD UNIVERSALLY EXPAND THE HOUSING VOW CHUR PROGRAM AND ENSURE THAT EVERY FAMILY IN NEED, EVERY FAMILY STRUGGLING WITH HOMELESSNESS OR HOUSING SECURITY WOULD HAVE ACCESS TO A VOUCHER WHICH GUARANTEES THAT YOU PAY NO MORE THAN 30% OF YOUR INCOME TOWARD YOUR RENT.

IN MY VIEW, THE HOUSING VOUCHERS FOR ALL WOULD BRING US CLOSER THAN WE HAVE EVER BEEN TO ENDING HOMELESSNESS IN AMERICA.

THAT'S WHAT IT'S CALLED, SECTION 8 VOUCHERS.

FEDERAL VOUCHERS?

YEAH.

SECTION 8 OR HOUSING VOUCHERS.

HOUSING VOUCHERS.

SO THIS WILL OBVIOUSLY BE FOR THE WHOLE COUNTRY.

BUT LET'S FOCUS AGAIN, AS YOU HAVE ON NEW YORK CITY.

HOW WILL IT TRANSFORM THE REALITY OF THE PEOPLE THAT YOU TALK ABOUT HERE IN NEW YORK CITY?

HOW MANY MORE WOULD HAVE ACCESS TO THESE VOUCHERS?

SO IF WE WERE TO PASS THE LEGISLATION, THE IMPLEMENTATION WOULD UNFOLD OVER THE COURSE OF EIGHT YEARS.

AND 1.3 HOUSEHOLDS IN NEW YORK STATE WOULD BENEFIT FROM THE PROGRAM.

SO, CONGRESSMAN, HOW WOULD YOU RESPOND TO SOMEONE WHO MIGHT SAY OR PROBABLY HAS ALREADY SAID THAT THIS IS A VERY SUBSTANTIAL PROGRAM AND A VERY IMPORTANT BILL.

BUT IF YOU REALLY WANT TO END HOMELESSNESS IN THIS COUNTRY, YOU JUST GOT TO HAVE A MUCH LARGER NUMBER OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING.

YOU GOT TO BUILD A LOT MORE AFFORDABLE HOUSES ALL OVER THE COUNTRY.

HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THAT?

IT'S NOT EITHER/OR.

IT'S BOTH/AND.

WE HAVE TO BUILD FOR HOUSING, BUT WE HAVE TO ENSURE THE HOUSING WE BUILD IS AFFORDABLE TO THE LOWEST INCOME OF AMERICANS.

THE MOST COMMON QUESTION THAT COMES TO MIND IS AFFORDABLE FOR WHOM?

YEAH.

THE REALITY IS THAT MOST OF THE AFFORDABLE HOUSING THE GOVERNMENT CREATES IS UNAFFORDABLE TO THE POOREST AMERICANS.

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT DEFINES 60% OF AMI AS LOW-INCOME HOUSING.

60% OF AMI IS WELL ABOVE $60,000 A YEAR, WHICH IS MORE THAN DOUBLE THE MEDIAN INCOME IN THE SOUTH BRONX.

SO WHAT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CONSIDERS LOW-INCOME HOUSING IS FAR BEYOND THE REACH OF MOST LOW-INCOME PEOPLE IN PLACES LIKE THE SOUTH BRONX.

SO A SECTION 8 VOUCHER WOULD ENSURE THAT AFFORDABLE HOUSING IS DEEPLY AFFORDABLE, UNIVERSALLY AFFORDABLE, AFFORDABLE TO THOSE IN GREATEST NEED.

SO HOW MUCH WOULD THIS BILL, IF ENACTED INTO LAW, HOW MUCH WOULD IT COST?

I'M GUESSING A LOT OF YOUR COLLEAGUES ARE CONCERNED ABOUT THAT.

I'M GUESSING THIS IS PROBABLY THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE TO GETTING THIS BILL PASSED.

PUT THE COST IN CONTEXT.

SO THE COST OF INCARCERATION ON RUTGERS ISLAND IS ABOUT A HALF A MILLION DOLLARS PER INMATE EVERY YEAR.

THE COST OF SHELTER FOR A FAMILY IS UPWARD OF $70,000 EVERY YEAR AS OF 2017 AND $38,000 FOR A SINGLE ADULT.

BY CONTRAST, THE COST OF HOUSING VOUCHERS FOR ALL PER PERSON EVERY YEAR IS $7,500.

RIGHT?

AFFORDABLE HOUSING, PERMANENT STABLE HOUSING IS MORE COST EFFECTIVE THAN HOSPITALIZATION OR TEMPORARY SHELTER OR INCARCERATION.

SO WHEN YOU PUT IT IN CONTEXT, IT IS ONE OF THE BEST INVESTMENTS THAT WE CAN MAKE.

SO CONVENTIONAL WISDOM AS YOU PROBABLY KNOW THAT COME THE MIDTERM ELECTIONS NEXT YEAR, THE REPUBLICANS HAVE A VERY GOOD CHANCE OF TAKING CONTROL OF THE HOUSE.

AGAIN, DOES THAT PUT PRESSURE ON YOU AND YOUR CO-SPONSORS TO GET THIS BILL PASSED THIS YEAR?

MY PHILOSOPHY IN LIFE IS TO HOPE FOR THE BEST BUT PREPARE FOR THE WORST.

WE HAVE LESS THAN A YEAR AND A HALF TO ACCOMPLISH AS MUCH AS WE CAN.

IN MY VIEW, WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF AN FDR MOMENT.

WE HAVE A HISTORIC OPPORTUNITY TO GOVERN AS BOLDLY IN THE 21st CENTURY AS FDR DID.

AND IF WE FAIL TO STRIKE WHEN THE IRON IS HOT, THEN WE WOULD HAVE LOST A ONCE IN A CENTURY OPPORTUNITY TO IMPROVE THE LIVES OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE.

WILL IT PASS?

WILL THIS BILL PASS THE HOUSE AND THE SENATE?

WILL IT BECOME LAW?

LOOK, IT IS A LONGER TERM FIGHT, BUT I'M HOPEFUL WE CAN GET COMPONENTS OF THE BILL IN THE $3.5 TRILLION RECONCILIATION BILL THAT WE'RE GOING TO PASS IN THE FALL.

I'M HOPEFUL THAT THE RECONCILIATION BILL WILL INCLUDE A HISTORIC EXPANSION OF THE SECTION 8 PROGRAM.

SO THAT BILL IS GOING TO BE A DOWN PAYMENT ON WHAT IS GOING TO BE A LONGER TERM VISION.

SO YOU'RE ALSO WORKING TO MAKE THE CURRENT CHILD TAX CREDIT PERMANENT?

FIRST OF ALL, WHAT IS THE CHILD TAX CREDIT?

HOW WELL HAS IT WORKED IN REDUCING CHILD POVERTY?

AND WHY ISN'T IT PERMANENT ALREADY?

SO THE AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN EXPANDED THE CHILD TAX CREDIT BY ONE YEAR.

THE PRESIDENT IS PROPOSING AN EXPANSION UNTIL 2025.

I'M ADVOCATING A PERMANENT EXPANSION BECAUSE IN MY VIEW, A PERMANENT PROGRESSIVE CHILD TAX CREDIT WOULD BE TO FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN WHAT SOCIAL SECURITY HAS LONG BEEN TO SENIOR CITIZENS.

IT WOULD REPRESENT A PERMANENT BREAKTHROW AGAINST POVERTY IN AMERICA.

WITHOUT SOCIAL SECURITY UP TO 40% OF SENIOR CITIZENS WOULD BE LANGUISHING IN POVERTY.

UNLIKE MOST TAX CREDITS, WHICH TEND TO BE DISPERSED ANNUALLY, THE CHILD TAX CREDIT OPERATES LIKE SOCIAL SECURITY FOR FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN.

FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN RECEIVE UP TO $300 PER CHILD EVERY SINGLE MONTH, WHICH MEANS MORE MONEY TO PUT FOOD ON THE TABLE, PAY THE BILLS AND KEEP YOUR FAMILY AFLOAT.

IT MAKES AMERICA MUCH MORE AFFORDABLE FOR FAMILIES AND CHILDREN.

NOW, THE PRESIDENT IS PROPOSING TO EXTEND IT ONLY TO 2025.

AND FROM WHAT I READ, HE'S DOING THAT BECAUSE HE DOESN'T BELIEVE HE HAS THE SUPPORT.

I'M GUESSING FROM REPUBLICANS.

TO BE MORE AMBITIOUS.

IT'S A POLITICAL CALCULATION.

DO YOU DISAGREE WITH THAT CALCULATION?

I DISAGREE WITH THE CALCULATION BECAUSE IT IS -- THERE IS NO POLICY THAT WOULD DO MORE TO LIFT AMERICANS OUT OF POVERTY THAN AN EXPANSION OF THE CHILD TAX CREDIT WHICH CUT CHILD POVERTY BY 50%. FOR ME THE CHILD TAX CREDIT IS TO PRESIDENT BIDEN WHAT MEDICARE WAS TO LINDEN JOHNSON, WHAT SOCIAL SECURITY HAD BEEN TO FDR.

FDR NEVER PUT AN EXPIRATION DATE ON SOCIAL SECURITY.

LYNDON JOHNSON NEVER PUT AN EXPIRATION DATE ON MEDICARE.

WHY SHOULD PRESIDENT BIDEN PUT AN EXPIRATION DATE ON WHAT WILL UNDOUBTEDLY BECOME HIS GREATEST LEGACY, HIS GREATEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE AMERICAN SOCIAL CONTRACT.

NOW, RIGHT NOW AS THE TAX CREDIT WORKS, A MARRIED COUPLE CAN GET THE FULL TAX CREDIT.

YOU HAVE HAD COLLEAGUES IN THE HOUSE WHO HAVE PREVIOUSLY PROPOSED THAT THE CAP BE LOWERED TO $150,000.

NOW THAT DOESN'T SEEM TO BE ON THE TABLE FROM THE WHITE HOUSE.

SHOULD IT BE?

WELL, KEEP IN MIND THAT THOSE WITH LOWER INCOMES RECEIVE A MUCH MORE GENEROUS TAX CREDIT.

BUT YOU CAN RECEIVE A PARTIAL TAX CREDIT FOR HOUSEHOLD INCOMES UP TO $400,000.

BUT THAT'S NO DIFFERENT FOR MEDICARE, NO DIFFERENT FROM SOCIAL SECURITY.

THE STRONGEST SOCIAL PROGRAMS TEND TO BE EITHER UNIVERSAL OR BROADLY AVAILABLE.

YEAH, YEAH.

SO WHAT'S THE LIKELIHOOD THAT THIS WILL BE MADE PERMANENT?

AS YOU SAID IT IS A BIG DEAL.

WE ARE GOING TO KEEP FIGHTING.

WE ARE SUPREMELY CONFIDENT THAT IT WILL BE EXPANDED FOR THE LONG TERM.

BUT WHETHER IT'S GOING TO BE MADE PERMANENT WILL REMAIN AN OPEN QUESTION.

BUT EVEN IF IT'S EXPANDED ONLY FOR FOUR OR FIVE YEARS, IT'S GOING TO BE MUCH HARDER TO UNDO IT THAN IT WILL BE TO DO IT BECAUSE IT IS A WILDLY POPULAR PROGRAM AMONG THE AMERICAN PEOPLE.

OKAY.

SO LET'S TURN TO THE ISSUE OF CRIME AND GUN VIOLENCE.

AS IT HAPPENS, SHOOTINGS AND MURDERS WERE DOWN IN NEW YORK CITY LAST MONTH FROM THE PREVIOUS MONTH AND FROM JUNE OF 2020.

HOWEVER, THE CRIME IS STILL GOING UP IN SHOOTING.

UP TO LAST MONTH WERE SURGING.

WHAT CAN -- ASSUMING THAT THE DROP LAST MONTH IS NOT A NATIONAL TREND AND NOBODY IS SAYING IT IS, WHAT CAN WASHINGTON, D.C., DO ABOUT THIS?

PUBLIC SAFETY IS A PRIORITY FOR ME.

THE SOUTH BRONX HAS BEEN GROUND ZERO FOR AN OUTBREAK OF GUN VIOLENCE AND GANG VIOLENCE AND YOUTH VIOLENCE.

THE MURDER RATE IS UP BY MORE THAN 40% IN THE SOUTH BRONX.

THE NUMBER OF SHOOTING DEATHS BY MORE THAN 60ERS.

THE NUMBER OF SHOOTING INCIDENTS BY MORE THAN 40%. THE INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT PRESENTS AN OPPORTUNITY TO ADDRESS THE STRUCTURAL BARRIERS TO ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY FOR OUR YOUNG PEOPLE.

THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF YOUNG PEOPLE WHO EITHER DON'T GO TO SCHOOL, WHO DON'T GO TO WORK, WHOSE ONLY EXISTENCE IS LIFE ON THE STREETS, AND THOSE YOUNG PEOPLE ARE VULNERABLE TO GANG RECRUITMENT.

I SEE THE INVESTMENT AS A HISTORIC OPPORTUNITY TO CREATE ALTERNATIVES FOR OUR YOUNG PEOPLE, ALTERNATIVES TO LIFE ON THE STREETS.

MORE PROGRAMMING, MORE YOUTH EMPLOYMENT, MORE ALTERNATIVES TO GANG VIOLENCE.

THAT'S ONE.

NUMBER TWO, WE NEED FEDERAL GUN SAFETY.

GUN REGULATION AT THE STATE AND LOCAL LEVEL CAN ONLY TAKE YOU SO FAR BECAUSE GUNS MOVE ACROSS STRAIGHT LINES.

IT IS THE KIND OF INTERSTATE COMMERCE THAT SHOULD BE REGULATED BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.

WE OUGHT TO REGULATE THE SAFETY OF GUNS JUST LIKE AUTOMOBILES.

WHEN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT BEGAN REGULATING AUTOMOBILES, WHICH CAN BE DANGEROUS LIKE GUNS, THERE HAS BEEN A DRAMATIC PLUMMET ON THE FATALITIES ON THE ROAD.

MY GOAL IS NOT TO E RAID KATE GUNS.

MY GOAL IS TO MAKE THEM SAFER.

IN A RATIONAL WORLD, EVERY GUN WOULD BE REGISTERED AND SAFELY STORED.

EVERY GUN OWNER WOULD BE LICENSED AND PROFESSIONALLY TRAINED.

BUT THERE IS NOTHING RATIONAL ABOUT A POLITICAL SYSTEM THAT ENABLES ONE U.S. SENATOR FROM A STATE SMALLER THAN MY CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT TO FILIBUSTER GUN SAFETY AT THE EXPENSE OF 300 MILLION AMERICANS.

NOT EVEN THE MURDER OF ELEMENTARY CHILDREN IN SANDY HOOK WAS ENOUGH TO BREAK THE IRON GRIP OF THE FILIBUSTER IN WASHINGTON, D.C.

I SEE THE FILIBUSTER AS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL, ESPECIALLY ON THE SUBJECT OF GUN SAFETY.

WHILE THE FILIBUSTER IS STILL IN EFFECT, WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES THAT THAT COULD HAPPEN?

LOOK, IN THE SHORT TERM WE HAVE TO MAKE INVESTMENTS IN OUR YOUNG PEOPLE TO CREATE AN ALTERNATIVE TO GUN VIOLENCE.

AND WE HAVE TO RE-THINK THE NOTION, THE POLICY OF DEFUNDING THE POLICE.

MOST AMERICANS WANT A REFORM RATHER THAN DEFUND POLICE.

MOST AMERICANS WANT NEITHER MORE POLICING OR LESS POLICING, BUT BETTER POLICING, MORE EFFECTIVE AND TRANSPARENT AND ACCOUNTABLE POLICING.

AND THAT'S WHAT WE SHOULD BE AIMING FOR.

HAVE YOU ALWAYS HAD THAT DECISION SINCE THE DEFUND THE POLICE MOVEMENT CAME UP A YEAR AGO?

I ASK BECAUSE YOU JOINED YOUR COLLEAGUES WHEN YOU WERE STILL IN CITY COUNCIL TO VOTE TO CUT A BILLION DOLLARS FROM THE NYPD.

OR HAS IT BEEN THE RESULTS THAT YOU HAVE SEEN OVER THE LAST YEAR THAT HAVE BROUGHT YOU TO THIS?

KEEP IN MIND THAT THE SUPPORTERS OF THE DEFUND MOVEMENT WERE AGAINST THE BUDGET BECAUSE THEIR VIEW IS THAT IT DID NOT GENUINELY DEFUND THE NYPD BY A BILLION DOLLARS.

WE DID FUND A BUDGET THAT CUTS ACROSS THE BOARD BECAUSE WE WERE IN THE MIDST OF AN ECONOMIC CRISIS, THE LIKES WHICH WE HAD NOT SEEN BEFORE.

WE HAD RUN OUT OF REVENUES AND WE HAD MADE ACROSS THE BOARD BUDGET CUTS.

BUT WHEN I MEAN DEFUND THE POLICE, I'M REFERRING TO THERE IS A PROPOSAL IN NEW YORK CITY TO CUT THE NYPD'S BUDGET BY 50%. AND THE NOTION OF DEFUNDING THE NYPD BY 50% OR ABOLISHING IT ALTOGETHER IS DANGEROUSED IN MIDST OF GUN VIOLENCE AND YOUTH VIOLENCE.

WE ONLY HAVE 30 SECONDS LEFT.

I KNOW ERIC ADAMS WAS NOT YOUR NUMBER ONE CANDIDATE, BUT HE DID, YOU KNOW, CAMPAIGN E ESPECIALLY OVER THE LAST FEW WEEKS AGAINST CRIME AND GUN VIOLENCE.

ARE YOU CONFIDENT THAT HE HAS THE RIGHT DECISIONS AND THAT HE'LL DO IT RIGHT?

HE HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BE A UNIFYING FIGURE IN A MOMENT OF DIVISION BECAUSE HE KNOWS WHAT IT IS LIKE TO BE A YOUNG BLACK MAN WHO HAS BEEN OVERPOLICED BUT HE KNOWS WHAT IT IS LIKE TO BE A POLICE OFFICER.

AND HE CAN UNIFY US THROUGH THE POWER OF HIS LIVED EXPERIENCE.

CONGRESSMAN, WE HAVE TO END IT THERE.

I SHOULD TELL OUR VIEWERS THAT YOU WERE SICK, BUT YOU CAME IN ANYWAYS.

IT'S ALWAYS A PLEASURE.

TAKE CARE.

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