Wall Street Journal: New York City Plans to Open 90 New Homeless Shelters
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2017

Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit, spoke with the Wall Street Journal about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s homelessness plan earlier today.

Judith Goldiner of the Legal Aid Society, said in a statement that the mayor’s heart is in the right place with the proposal, but it “falls drastically short” of what is needed to address the city’s homeless crisis. “Only a solution that increases the availability of permanent brick-and-mortar housing…can appropriately address this longstanding public problem,” she said.

 

 

The Wall Street Journal
New York City Plans to Open 90 New Homeless Shelters
By Mara Gay And Melanie West
Updated Feb. 28, 2017

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to open 90 new homeless shelters during the next five years, his latest bid to deal with a problem that has left tens of thousands of people without permanent housing and dogged the mayor in his first term.

Mr. de Blasio’s proposal, which he is expected to announce Tuesday afternoon, would expand the number of shelters in the city by about a third. It comes as the mayor, a liberal Democrat who came to office promising to address the city’s growing income inequality, is up for reelection in November.

The number of people living in shelter rose to more than 60,000 last year, up from 50,689 when he took office in 2014. Mr. de Blasio seemed to be tempering expectations on Tuesday, cautioning that when it comes to homelessness, “there are no silver bullets.”

“We will not solve this crisis overnight. It will be a long, hard fight,” Mr. de Blasio said in the plan released by his office Tuesday.

The document, which includes more than 100 pages, didn’t provide an estimate of the plan’s cost. Spending on homelessness has increased by about 60% since the mayor took office, rising to $1.6 billion last year.

Under the proposal, the city would open about 20 shelters each year during the next five years. Mr. de Blasio said he planned to reduce the number of people living in shelters by 2,500 in the same period.

De Blasio administration officials didn’t say where they planned to locate the new shelters, but the expansion likely will be met with fierce resistance from some communities. In one early example, the mayor was forced to back away from a proposal to turn a hotel into a homeless shelter last year in the Maspeth neighborhood of Queens, after residents successfully organized against the plan.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, a Queens Democrat who represents Maspeth and was opposed to the proposal, said on Tuesday the city should focus on building permanent housing instead of shelters.

“That’s what people want. They don’t want to live in shelter,” Ms. Crowley said.

Judith Goldiner of the Legal Aid Society, said in a statement that the mayor’s heart is in the right place with the proposal, but it “falls drastically short” of what is needed to address the city’s homeless crisis. “Only a solution that increases the availability of permanent brick-and-mortar housing…can appropriately address this longstanding public problem,” she said.

This is the latest attempt by Mr. de Blasio to address homelessness. The mayor ordered a shake-up of his administration’s approach to the issue more than two years ago, tapping Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks to conduct an overhaul of the city’s programs. The effort came after former Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor resigned in Dec. 2015.

City Hall officials have said expanding the shelter system is necessary because of the overwhelming need. The city is legally required to provide shelter to the homeless.

Mr. de Blasio also has promised to move people out of the 80 hotel sites and 270 private apartments being used as shelters, which many advocates have said are unsafe. The mayor criticized the use of the private apartments, known as “cluster sites,” under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Mr. de Blasio on Tuesday blamed homelessness on the city’s rising rents and falling incomes among the working poor during the past decade and a half. Between 2000 and 2014, the median New York City rent increased by nearly 20% in real dollars, while household income declined by 6.4% in real dollars, according to city officials. The mayor also said the city lost about 150,000 units of rent-stabilized apartments from 1994 to 2012, worsening the problem.

Paul Massey, a leading Republican candidate running against Mr. de Blasio, said the mayor’s attempts to address homelessness have failed because of a “lack of leadership and execution.”

Mr. Massey, a former real-estate executive, has yet to unveil his own plan for dealing with homelessness.

Some advocates for the homeless applauded the mayor’s proposal. The plan offers realistic ways to replace the city’s cluster and hotel sites, and recognizes that shelter is part of a forward-thinking equation, said Catherine Trapani, executive director of Homeless Services United, a coalition representing some of the city’s homeless services providers.

“Politically it’s very challenging for any administration to admit that you need more shelter. Everybody wants more housing,” she said.

The mayor’s plan also presses shelters to have a client-centered approach, offering supportive services tailored to the specific needs of different populations such as extra help for domestic-violence victims, people with medical disabilities or those looking for jobs.

“Shelters are not just roofs, they are programs,” Ms. Trapani said.