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Problem-Plagued 'Cluster Housing' for Homeless Being Phased Out, Pols Say

By Shant Shahrigian | May 26, 2017 6:15pm | Updated on May 30, 2017 7:57am
 The de Blasio Administration hopes to close all cluster sites, like the one where two children died after a radiator malfunctioned last year.
The de Blasio Administration hopes to close all cluster sites, like the one where two children died after a radiator malfunctioned last year.
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SOUNDVIEW — The de Blasio administration announced Friday that it has closed nearly a quarter of the problem-plagued "cluster housing" units for the homeless, months after two girls were burned to death by a faulty radiator in an apartment rented under the program.

Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio and Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks said the administration has stopped using 842 of the 3,658 units the city was renting at the peak of the cluster housing program — relocating about 3,000 homeless New Yorkers to shelters or hotels.

“They can be provided with high-quality services in shelters... or in permanent housing,” Banks said of the people leaving cluster housing. “That’s a much better outcome for children and families than they’ve experienced in the 17 years of this program.”

The announcement came after months of activists’ opposition to the mayor’s plan to open 90 permanent homeless shelters citywide.

So far, his administration has seen five new shelters go up, two of them in The Bronx. The Bronx has had the heaviest use of cluster units — 2,877 in 236 buildings at the peak.

But the problem of using cluster apartments came into stark relief in December, when girls ages 1 and 2 died after a faulty radiator in their cluster-site home in Hunts Point blasted steam all over their bodies.

“It’s better to have a shelter operated by a mission-driven nonprofit with on-site social services, with on-site security, than to have a cluster site that is run by a slumlord and that leads to the death of little children,” said Councilman Ritchie Torres, who recently welcomed The Bronx’s two new homeless shelters in his district. “So I’m proud to defend this plan.”

The press conference occurred in front of a six-story apartment building on Morrison Avenue near Watson Avenue. The officials said the administration had recently stopped using seven units there to house the homeless, though Banks didn’t specify where the tenants now are.

“This very community in Soundview has always been the epicenter of homeless shelters and transitional housing programs,” said the neighborhood’s assemblyman, Marcos Crespo. “The use of clusters has been one of the most egregious examples of trying to solve a very difficult problem,” he added, saying that such units isolate and degrade homeless families.

The building super at 1105 Morrison Ave. welcomed the end of the cluster units for different reasons. Alfredo Bazan, 38, said residents of the cluster apartments broke windows and created excessive noise. He also suspected some smoked marijuana in their homes.

“Sometimes the people (were) crazy, you know?” he said, adding that the seven units are now being renovated.

Still, neighbors passing by after the press conference seemed to think the cluster housing was fine.

“They should live in apartments by themselves,” said Carlos Rosario, 41. “If you live in a homeless shelter, everybody is going to know you live in a homeless shelter. They might feel lower than the average person.”

Banks said the city stopped using 842 cluster sites over the course of about a year and that the administration wants to close the last cluster site by 2021.

He couldn’t predict a timeframe for the mayor’s plan to build 85 more new shelters.

While pols like Torres have welcomed the new shelters, powerful officials including Bronx state Sen. Jeff Klein have slammed the plan.

“It’s controversial to plan five homeless shelters around the city, let alone 90,” he recently said. Activists in Brownsville, Brooklyn have gone so far as to sue over the creation of more shelters in their neighborhood.

And the city has faced furious opposition to converting a Holiday Inn into a homeless shelter in Maspeth, Queens.