By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — The city is renting rooms for 200 homeless men in buildings that have been fined thousands of dollars for dangerous safety violations, including not having enough water for fire sprinklers, records show.
The Department of Homeless Services rents the rooms in 316 and 330 W. 95th St., single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels which have more than 50 open safety violations between them, according to Department of Buildings records.
The two buildings have racked up more than $45,000 in fines for breaking safety rules, DOB records show. A Feb. 1 inspection at 330 W. 95th St. found kitchen sinks blocking windows leading to fire escapes on several floors, according to the DOB website.
The Department of Homeless Services has rented rooms since 2009 for 59 adult men at 330 W. 95th Street, also known as the Fresh Hostel, and 141 adult men at 316 W. 95th Street, also called the Candy Hostel, a DHS spokeswoman said.
The homeless men receive services at the SRO hotels, including meals, employment services, housing assistance and case management services.
When asked about housing the homeless at buildings with safety violations, a Department of Homeless spokeswoman said service providers obtain liability insurance to cover any injuries that may occur on the premises. The spokeswoman also said the city plans to reduce the number of people they house in the buildings once the cold season ends.
The two SRO hotels were the target of a 2007 lawsuit the city filed to stop the hotels from renting rooms to tourists. The legal battle was meant to preserve the SRO hotels as affordable housing for low-income residents.
The city argued that owners illegally converted the buildings to accommodate tourists, which made for unsafe conditions that hurt the quality of life of the building's long-term residents.
But now the city is paying to rent rooms in the same buildings it tried to shut down. DHS hasn't responded to questions about how much it pays to rent the rooms, but advocates who work in SRO buildings say they've seen instances where DHS pays $2,000 a month per person.
Tom Cayler, a member of the Illegal Hotel Committee of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance, said the situation sends a mixed message to SRO hotel owners.
"Why doesn't the city have to follow the city's own administrative code?" Cayler said. "If you don't have to comply with the law when do business with the city, doesn't that say to landlords, 'Hey, do anything you want, do illegal construction...and we'll still give you the money.'"
A new law that goes into effect in May means an uncertain future for SRO hotels on the Upper West Side. The hotels can no longer serve tourists, which means some are turning to city contracts to pay the bills.
DHS has plans to open a 200-bed homeless facility in an SRO hotel on West 94th Street.
Local officials have sharply criticized the plan, because they want SRO buildings like the Alexander to serve as permanent, affordable housing for low-income residents.
Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal said this week she plans to introduce legislation that would stop the city from moving homeless people and other transient populations into SRO buildings that once operated as illegal hotels.