Dispatches from the fight against homelessness and AIDS
Posted by Sunny Bjerk , February 11, 2013
Image from the Coalition for the Homeless
While every New Year begins with high hopes, some patterns always seem to endure. Today’s case in point: New York City’s terrible money-handling skills and deficient arithmetic continue to overburden the homeless while lining the pockets of preying landlords.
Last week news broke that many landlords are trying to buy people out of their stabilized housing units in order to clear the unit for a homeless person needing shelter.
Because the city brilliantly decided that instead of funding programs that put homeless people on priority lists for section 8 or public housing, that they would instead have the Department of Homeless Services pay landlords over $3,000 per month, per unit, to house the city’s growing homeless population.
That’s right: the city pays landlords an exorbitant amount of money to house homeless people in units in buildings where fire-safety and infrastructure violations run nearly as amok as the buildings’ mice. What’s more is that many of these buildings lack the supportive services that this $3,000 payment is supposed to fund, such as case managers, security guards, job referrals, health referrals, and professionals that can provide other social services. One resident noted that all they have seen in terms of services are a few lackadaisical security guards, and that t
The city claims that paying landlords to house homeless people in these units is their only option since the city’s shelter system is so overrun that it is nearly breaking at the seams.
But this $3,000-per-unit policy actually supports a growing trend where landlords actually make more money as an emergency shelter than they do as apartment rentals. The case of landlord Alan Lapes is especially illuminating. Lapes and the Department of Homeless Services have a contract where he will lease units in his 95th Street building to be used as a shelter for homeless people at $122 per day, per person, per unit. In total, this adds up to more than $3,000 each month for one person, and will cost the city at least $47 million dollars.
The real kicker? Lapes owns or leases “about 20 of the 231 shelters citywide,” and unsurprisingly, he has refused to comment on the New York Times’ story. Rumor has it he’s hiding in his $3.3 million home in Upper Saddle River, NJ.
But there is at least some light at the end of the tunnel. While the commissioner of homeless services Seth Diamond promises, “We’ve tried hard to make sure we’re getting the best deal for the city,” many public and powerful figures are calling on the city to make changes to its homeless policies now. At a community meeting last week, State Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal (Manhattan Democrat) pushed for reforms and eliminating the profit from emergency shelter buildings.
Additionally, last week current city comptroller and Mayoral Candidate John C. Liu began to audit the city’s Department of Homeless Service’s payments as well as some long-standing partnerships between the former commissioner of homeless services Robert V. Hess and contracted organizations. (Previous audits of the Department of Homeless Services found missing documentation for a $10 million dollar contract as well as homeless people being housed in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, as well as failing to transition clients into stable housing within a timely manner).
And it’s about damn time. It’s time for a responsible homeless policies as well as a mayor who prioritizes sound solutions to homelessness and its causes.
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