By Bill Parry
Just before Christmas, the city Department of Homeless Services posted a request for vendors to procure 3,900 hotel rooms in order to shelter more of the record 60,000 homeless in the five boroughs.
Under the contract, DHS expects vendors to control room rate costs and negotiate flat monthly rates, avoiding spikes that cost the city nearly $80 million from Nov. 1, 2015 to Oct. 31, 2016, according to city Comptroller Scott Stringer.
“The city plans to reduce the use of commercial hotels when we can open more ongoing regular shelters, but meanwhile using a contract insures cost efficiency, transparency and since contracts will include performance standards, better oversight of conditions and services,” Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks said.
U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) blasted the practice of housing homeless individuals and families in hotels. As nightly protests at the Maspeth Holiday Inn Express grabbed headlines for months beginning in mid-August, Crowley and his colleagues discovered DHS had quietly moved more homeless into hotels in Corona and East Elmhurst, most recently at the LaGuardia Marriott at 102-05 Ditmars Ave. Crowley penned an op-ed piece Monday in the City & State magazine Slate calling on the city to abandon it shortsighted, costly attempts to convert hotels into shelters.
“Not only are hotels inadequate for meeting homeless families’ day-to-day needs, the approach uproots them from their communities, schools and opportunities to get back on their feet,” Crowley wrote. “The prevalence of hotels surrounding our airports puts an uneven burden on communities in Queens that are already struggling to meet their own needs. It is more than just unfair — it is an unsustainable, hasty patch for a problem that requires thoughtful, cost-effective, long-term solutions.”
Crowley has called for increased federal funding to programs that help make housing more affordable, such as Section 8 rental assistance, and he renewed his support for the Home Stability Support initiative, a plan proposed by state Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) that would combat the homeless crisis while saving taxpayers millions.
HSS would keep families in their homes with a statewide rent supplement for individuals and families facing eviction, homelessness or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous living conditions. The Hevesi plan would cost $11,224 per year for a household of three in New York City, while the cost to shelter a family is $38,460 with a net savings for taxpayers of $27,236 per year.
HSS is “an innovative way to redirect scarce federal and state resources toward those most at risk of becoming homeless,” Crowley wrote. “And our city needs a serious course correction in how this problem is prevented and addressed.”
Meanwhile, DHS anticipates that the contract for vendors will range from three to nine years, including options and depending on the financial terms and conditions.
“Clearly, there are ways officials at all levels of government can work to end New York’s homelessness crisis, but the efforts of those closest to the problem have fallen far too short,” Crowley wrote. “The de Blasio administration can and must do more to keep families and individuals in their homes, and to help those who are forced out find viable, permanent housing.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr