Every year, 50,514 people cycle through New York City’s jail system and almost 26,000 people are released from New York state prison. Many return home to New York City without a safe, stable place to live. A tangle of city and federal funding restrictions preclude reentry housing programs from offering critical support services and, instead, relegates people to the shelters, streets, or unregulated, substandard housing. When seeking housing assistance, individuals returning to the community are faced with numerous eligibility restrictions narrowing their already limited options. Some restrictions that limit The Fortune Society from servicing people returning from incarceration experiencing homelessness include
– People being released from prison on parole are not considered homeless and therefore don’t qualify to live in housing programs supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. To become eligible, individuals returning from incarceration must first either live in the street or in a shelter for 90 days.
– Similarly, New York City’s permanent supportive housing units are generally reserved for people who are chronically homeless, which excludes those recently released from jail or prison.
– Funding for emergency and supportive transitional housing for people on parole is cobbled together from numerous sources, and it’s often difficult to match the strict eligibility and funding requirements to individuals and their needs. For example, city HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) funding will only support beds for people living with HIV/AIDS. Federal subsidies, like United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), will support a person on parole only if they’ve been undomiciled for three months.
These barriers to housing access create major obstacles for individuals looking to rebuild their lives. As Latisha Millard, Director of Scatter-Site Housing, explains, having a stable home is essential to successful reentry:
At The Fortune Society, we work to create this feeling of safety for individuals recently released from jail or prison. Our Housing program provides stability for those impacted by the criminal justice system, while our community education and policy reform efforts actively change laws and policies that prevent access to needed services.
The Fortune Academy (“the Castle”) provides a model of supportive housing that is cost-effective, beneficial, and replicable at a large scale. Located in West Harlem and home to 82 individuals, the transitional housing development is uniquely geared toward the needs of those reentering the community. Unlike conventional shelters, residents at the Castle are held highly accountable—they must be involved in 35 hours of constructive activities every week, undergo daily drug testing, engage in counseling, and, if needed, access mental health or substance use services. Castle Gardens, a mixed-use supportive and affordable housing development adjacent to the Castle, provides additional housing for justice-involved individuals, their families, and community members. This development has a total of 114 units: 63 supportive housing units, 50 affordable housing units, and 1 superintendent apartment. The model works – with individualized support and access to Fortune’s array of services and programs, residents transition from our emergency housing phase into phased-permanent housing, and finally to supportive or affordable permanent housing options on average within one year.
Fortune is currently helping to replicate these successes in other communities. A new housing development in Syracuse, New York inspired by the Castle’s model, named Freedom Commons, is under construction and scheduled to open this year. This project reflects a partnership between the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) and Syracuse Housing Authority (SHA), and will provide housing and support for 57 individuals with justice involvement.
In addition to our unique direct service housing model, Fortune’s David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP) works to eradicate housing barriers through advocacy and policy reform. The team has served on coalitions and participated in advocacy efforts that have pushed through recent legislation and policy changes, including increasing the oversight and regulation of three-quarter housing in New York City, creating new pathways for lifting permanent exclusion policies in NYCHA developments, ensuring people facing eviction have representation, and more. A federal lawsuit, filed against the Sandcastle Towers Housing Development Fund, is taking direct action against landlords who use blanket policies to discriminate against individuals with criminal records.
By being smart about reentry and housing, we can spend less, do more, save lives, and make our communities safer. At Fortune, our Housing program and Policy teams are working to advance these smarter, more compassionate approaches. By providing more options for individuals with justice involvement, we are giving them strong foundations to thrive in the community.
Read our report, A Place to Call Home: A Vision for Safe, Supportive, and Affordable Housing for People With Justice Involvement, for more about our model and advocacy on this issue.
*Written by Carmen Rojas, Development and Communications Associate at The Fortune Society