City denies aid while testing housing program

In an effort to assess its Homebase housing program, the city is denying assistance for two years to people who are behind on rent and in danger of being evicted, with researchers tracking them to see if they end up homeless. The city’s Department of Homeless Services said the study was necessary to determine whether the $23 million program is working effectively, the New York Times reported. However, some public officials and legal aid groups have denounced the study, calling it unethical and cruel, and demanding that the city help all the test subjects who had been denied assistance. “They should immediately stop this experiment,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said. “The city shouldn’t be making guinea pigs out of its most vulnerable.” Since 2004, Homebase has been offering job training, counseling and emergency money to help people stay in their homes. Close to 5,500 households receive Homebase help each year, and an additional 1,500 are denied case management and rental assistance because money runs out. Although the experiment is being viewed as controversial, New York City is among a number of governments and research groups turning to so-called randomized controlled trials to evaluate social welfare programs. “It’s a very effective way to find out what works and what doesn’t,” said Esther Duflo, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has advanced the testing of social programs. “Everybody, every country, has a limited budget and wants to find out what programs are effective.” [NYT]

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