By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal says she's taking aim at city plans to move homeless people into single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels on the Upper West Side.
Rosenthal, who represents the 67th Assembly District, said she would introduce legislation within the next week that would stop the city from moving the homeless and other transient groups into SRO buildings that have operated as illegal tourist hotels.
Rosenthal says such buildings are supposed to provide long-term, affordable housing for low-income residents. That's why she co-sponsored a bill last year, which goes into effect in May, that makes it illegal for those buildings to rent rooms to tourists.
Moving homeless people into the buildings reversed the new law's intent of preserving affordable housing, and hurt homeless people who needed more stable situations, Rosenthal said.
"All of us cheered when the law passed, but the next thing you know the city is paying exorbitant rent to the landlords to fill the now-empty illegal hotel buildings with homeless people who need permanent housing and not more temporary shuttling from place to place," Rosenthal said.
DHS hasn't said how much it paid to rent the SRO rooms, but advocates who work with SRO tenants said they've seen instances of city agencies renting rooms for $2,000 a month. Permanent residents in SRO buildings usually pay just a few hundred dollars rent.
Rosenthal said the Department of Homeless Services moving homeless people into the SRO hotels highlighted a disconnect between city agencies.
Several city agencies, including the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement, the Department of Buildings and the Department of Housing Preservation & Development, worked together to try to shut down the two SRO hotels on West 95th Street in 2007.
The city took the building owners to court, arguing that they were illegally converting the buildings to accommodate tourists, which made for unsafe conditions that hurt the quality of life of the building's long-term residents.
Now those same buildings were benefiting from contracts with DHS, Rosenthal noted.
"Clearly it’s one hand doesn't know what the other hand is doing in the administration," Rosenthal said. "They shouldn't be using the buildings they just helped clear out as a way station for the homeless. The only one who reaps a reward is the landlord, who makes thousands of dollars."