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Avella announces plan to combat homeless crisis

By Madina Toure

At a news conference last week, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) outlined proposals to address the homeless crisis in New York City, including investing $2 billion over five years for supportive housing, increasing shelter allowances and reforming shelters.

The proposals follow a public forum on homelessness that Avella, chairman of the Senate Task Force on the Delivery of Social Services, held in October. He released a report summarizing the testimonies given by agency commissioners and homeless advocates during the forum.

Avella said his proposal is in contrast with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s, which seeks to invest $2.6 billion over 15 years to increase supportive housing. He said advocates for homeless individuals complained about the timeframe.

“That’s a long period where you’re stretching this out, so my recommendation to the mayor and hopefully with support from the governor, will be $2 billion over five years,” he said. “We have to do this right now. We can’t wait 15 years.”

Among the senator’s proposals are raising the New York state shelter allowance, which has not been increased since 2003; making shelters cleaner and safer; and ensuring that there is a licensed social worker at every site. He also wants to eliminate vacancy decontrol, which allows landlords to charge market rates for a rent-stabilized apartment when the tenant moves out and the rent is more than $2,500.

The city is facing criticism for not sufficiently managing the homeless crisis, with nearly 58,000 living in shelters and another 3,000 to 4,000 estimated to be living on the streets.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order Jan. 3 to bring homeless individuals off the streets when temperatures decline to 32 degrees or below.

Two days later, de Blasio announced that Herminia Palacio would serve as deputy mayor for Health and Human services starting Jan. 25. She will be tasked with addressing homelessness across the five boroughs.

Last month, Gilbert Taylor resigned as commissioner of the city Department of Homeless Services after two years in the position. Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks took over DHS Jan. 1, while Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris leads the review of all city homeless services.

Avella said the crisis is an “emergency situation” but that the city should still communicate with neighborhoods before placing the homeless in shelters. He cited the Pan American Hotel shelter in Elmhurst, where the homeless arrived without the city notifying the community or elected officials.

“I said it to the commissioner, and by the way, some of you may remember, I was the person who first asked for Commissioner Taylor to step down and resign, because I thought he was doing a terrible job,” he said. “I’m glad to see that finally happened. It should have happened sooner.”

Other proposals from Avella include recalculating affordable housing eligibility with an area median income by zip code, providing priority status to homeless veterans and victims of domestic violence and increasing shelter capacity for homeless youth.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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