After promising to phase out both “cluster sites” and commercial hotels, the City is making little progress on both
With over 13,000 open violations, “cluster site” shelters remain dangerous for our children
Department of Homeless Services dramatically escalating the use of commercial hotels, costing hundreds of millions of dollars
(New York, NY) – (RealEstateRama) — Following the tragic death of two children in the Bronx yesterday, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer today called for the City to release a roadmap to solving the homelessness crisis.
“I am outraged by the deaths of these children. What a horrifying loss. My heart goes out to this family in this time of unimaginable pain,” New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said. “I’m calling on the City to release a roadmap to tackle our homeless crisis. Cluster sites are known to be dangerous. Hotels are extraordinarily expensive and provide limited services. These options make no sense. That’s why we need a clear, transparent, public plan. While I know that progress will take time, we cannot continue to accept the status quo. The City promised to end its reliance on both of these forms of shelter – and we are no doubt trending in the wrong direction.”
As the deaths of two young children in the Bronx yesterday highlighted, “cluster sites” – buildings that have a mix of renters and DHS clients – can be extremely dangerous for homeless families. Many of these rooms are within buildings owned by notoriously bad landlords, a problem the City has known about for years. Currently, cluster sites not previously identified for closure have more than 13,000 open violations – including nearly 1,000 that are “high priority” and especially dangerous.
Currently, roughly 280 of the over 600 buildings that are used to house homeless New Yorkers – or 42 percent – contain cluster sites for families with children. At 720 Hunts Point Avenue, the location of yesterday’s tragedy, there are over 60 open HPD and DOB violations.
In January 2016, the City pledged to phase out thousands of units in the cluster program within three years. Yet, the city has made minimal progress towards that goal and the public has no timelines or milestones upon which to judge the agency’s approach.
New data also shows DHS’ use of commercial hotels is soaring. Because of a lack of a roadmap, in the letter to HRA Commissioner Steven Banks, Comptroller Stringer outlined his deep concerns with greatly expanding the approved capacity for hotel use:
- 2,629 hotel units for families with kids.
- 225 hotel units for adult families.
- 1,075 beds for single adults.
- The total cost of the most recent hotel escalation: over $217,000,000.
New cost numbers show the soaring price-tag for commercial hotels:
- Commercial hotel units cost about $6,600 per month, or almost $79,000 per year – nearly double the cost for any other shelter type.
- Yet, often, commercial hotel shelters have more limited services than other types of shelter, like child care service for families.
- These hotels are also known to be less secure than traditional shelters.
- Furthermore, hotel units lack kitchens and provide less privacy – making them inappropriate for families to live in long-term.
Comptroller Stringer also questioned if DHS had a comprehensive plan to address our City’s homelessness crisis. He specifically asked the City to answer:
- How the City plans to phase out the use of “cluster site” shelters by the end of 2018, and if it was on track to do so;
- If, given DHS’ request to dramatically expand the use of commercial hotels, the Administration’s policy was still to end using this type of shelter.
- Whether the City had offered security services to every commercial hotel used as a shelter, what those services entail, if the hotels had accepted, and if the City had stopped using any hotels that declined security services.
Over the last year, audits, investigations, and reports from Comptroller Stringer’s office have highlighted deplorable shelter conditions, the use of unsafe commercial hotels to house the homeless, and unregulated shelter-based childcare centers that put children at risk.
tsteven (at) comptroller.nyc (dot) gov