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City Policy for Homeless Housing Slammed for Lack of Social Services

By Maya Rajamani | November 4, 2016 4:57pm | Updated on November 7, 2016 8:56am
 A building at 535 West 43rd St. that CB4 says will be affected by the new policy.
A building at 535 West 43rd St. that CB4 says will be affected by the new policy.
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HELL'S KITCHEN —  A new policy requiring building owners to set aside a portion of affordable housing units for the homeless does not include adequate social services and "violates" agreements made as part of neighborhood rezonings, local officials said.

The city currently sets aside a percentage of units available through its affordable housing lottery for residents who live within a given building’s community district.

But as part of a policy change that went into effect last month, up to 50 percent of units earmarked for community members in buildings that have received 421-a benefits will be reserved for homeless people currently living in emergency shelters, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) said Thursday.

Those individuals and families would either have to be residing in an emergency shelter within the building’s community district or have a last-known address there, the spokeswoman said.

The city will only refer people for the units after they’ve been screened to ensure that they don’t need on-site support services and meet the building’s income requirements, she said.

But at a Wednesday meeting, Community Board 4’s Housing, Health and Human Services committee co-chair Joe Restuccia pointed out a number of perceived flaws in the new plan.

“[HPD has] no resources to know how to properly interview homeless referrals,” he said.

“You cannot place homeless families and individuals in apartments without social services.”

A draft of a letter the board plans to send to HPD also notes that the only subsidies currently provided for “homeless set-asides” are short-term ones.

“Providing homeless tenants with short-term subsidies limits the possibility for long-term success,” the board wrote.

“Both the social service support, as well as the issue of subsidies, must be integral to the projects which include homeless set-asides.”

In addition to buildings that haven’t yet hit the housing lottery, the policy will affect six properties in the Board 4 district that are currently in the process of selecting tenants for their affordable housing units, the letter says.

Of the 736 affordable units in those buildings, 370 are set aside for residents of CB4, the letter notes.

Under the new policy, 185 of those 370 units will be set aside for homeless residents.

HPD’s spokeswoman said that while buildings that are currently screening tenants would not be affected by the policy change, sites that are still actively seeking tenants would be.

The requirement will be reduced if a building has already rented more than half of its community preference units, or if there are applicants eligible for those units who completed the application and screening process before Oct. 14 and had their files submitted to HPD on or before Nov. 4, she said.

"This policy is consistent with the city's approach to housing our most vulnerable populations, which has coexisted effectively for years with the use of our housing lotteries in a fair and equitable process," the spokeswoman wrote in an email.

At the Wednesday meeting, committee co-chairwoman Barbara Davis lamented HPD’s decision to set aside the community units for the homeless instead of drawing them from the entire pool of affordable units.

When the neighborhood agreed to rezonings of West Chelsea, the Hudson Yards and the Western Rail Yards, the community made plans to set aside affordable housing for community residents “as a critical strategy to minimize displacement,” the board wrote in its letter.

“The proposed change for homeless referrals to be taken from the community preference violates several items within the points of agreement and undoes years of work to develop a system of affordable housing preservation that balances the needs of the community and the needs of the city’s most vulnerable populations,” the letter states.

On Wednesday, Davis maintained there was “no community process” during discussions of the new policy.

“Everyone agrees that there is a serious homeless crisis in New York City and that important measures need to be taken to help house the homeless,” she said.

“Our strong recommendation is that we work with the electeds to slow down the process and think through all the processes being put in place here.”