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City Spends More than $500K a Night to Rent Hotel Rooms to Homeless: Report

By Katie Honan | April 17, 2017 8:27pm
 A woman yells up at Commissioner Steve Banks at a meeting for a proposed homeless shelter in Maspeth, Queens on Aug. 31.
A woman yells up at Commissioner Steve Banks at a meeting for a proposed homeless shelter in Maspeth, Queens on Aug. 31.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

CORONA — The city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars more each night to house homeless residents in hotels across the five boroughs last year — averaging more than $500,000 a day, a report found.

Comptroller Scott Stringer crunched the numbers on the city's cost to house the record number of homeless residents, which is currently at around 58,000 but reached more than 60,000 over the past year. 

Booking hotel rooms for residents — which the city has done for decades — went up by 38 percent between October 2016 and February 2017, with more than 7,800 New Yorkers being placed in hotels at upwards of $500 a night per room, the report found.

The increase is even higher compared to costs from 2015. The daily cost for hotel bookings went up 601 percent between November 2015 and February 2017, from $82,214 to $576,203.

On two nights in December, the cost to house residents in hotels was more than $600,000, with the city spending $648,000 on Dec. 30, 2016. On that night, the city booked 10 rooms at a hotel near Times Square at $549 a room.

The hotels are not only costly, but offer limited services, the comptroller said. 

"Homeless New Yorkers don't belong in hotels," he said in a statement, calling it a "Band-Aid solution to a complex problem."

“The rising costs are extraordinary, and we are calling for more transparency from the city because the more open we are about our challenges, the more likely we are to solve them. Openness will help deliver results.”

The city said it's already moving toward a goal to reduce hotel rentals.

“The comptroller is behind the curve," City Hall spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg said in a statement. "We announced as part of our plan that we will be ending the use of hotels by opening a smaller number of better shelters across the five boroughs, reducing the number of shelter sites by 45 percent."

The comptroller's report also didn't note discounts at various hotels, officials added, and the city has already reduced individual hotel rates below $250 on most nights.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in February a plan to open 90 shelters across the city, which will help move away from the use of "cluster sites," which feature rental apartments in privately owned shelters, and hotels.

In February 2016, the mayor pledged to stop using hotels for the homeless after a man fatally stabbed his girlfriend and two of her daughters inside the Ramada Inn in Staten Island. The plan to end hotel use is now slated for 2023, while the city intends to phase out cluster sites by 2021, officials said.

But he's already faced familiar opposition to the opening of homeless shelters in neighborhoods across the city. In Maspeth last year, hundreds of residents took their fight to DHS Commissioner Steve Banks' Windsor Terrace home, and filed lawsuits, to stop the opening of a permanent shelter at a Holiday Inn.

The building's owner relented, but the city still rented individual rooms and said it was still looking at space in the neighborhood for a shelter. 

More recently, Crown Heights residents have protested and also filed a lawsuit to block the opening of three shelters in their neighborhood.