2010-04-09 / Top Stories

Council Takes Action To Prevent Overcrowded Housing

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was recently joined in the Red Room of City Hall by Homeless Services Commissioner Robert V. Hess, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, councilmembers and homeless advocates to announce a rule and a pilot program, developed jointly by the Speaker’s Office and Homeless Services. The rule and pilot will operate in shelters to help ensure that homeless adults are placed in safe and appropriate permanent housing when leaving temporary, emergency shelters.

“I thank DHS for working closely with the Council to ensure that homeless New Yorkers leaving shelters are safely housed,” Quinn said. “Too many homeless adults have left shelters just to end up in illegally overcrowded and unsafe housing, often requiring their return to shelter – not only is this unacceptable, but it’s also a huge step backward. Today we’re taking a step forward with the launch of this new rule and pilot program, which will bring us closer to fulfilling our responsibility to make sure that every homeless New Yorker has safe and suitable housing that they can actually call a home.”

The new measures are intended to reinforce guidance to directly operated shelters and not-for-profit shelter providers on making referrals to suitable housing. Under the rule, Homeless Services and its providers will be able to avoid referring clients to housing that an inspector has determined is unsafe or inappropriate by using the results of inspections by the Department of Buildings, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and the Fire Department.

“The rule will help providers assist clients in making good housing choices by using data from the Department of Buildings, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and the Fire Department to avoid referrals to housing that is potentially unsafe,” said Homeless Services Commissioner Robert V. Hess. “We are pleased to have worked with the Speaker to launch this program that will provide feedback to help ensure homeless New Yorkers are protected.”

The Office of the Speaker and Homeless Services have also developed a pilot program, which will be conducted in nine shelters. Under the pilot, Homeless Services will instruct providers to refrain from making referrals to buildings that have registered complaints regarding occupancy violations, but have not been inspected by a City agency because the inspector was unable to access the premises.

Public Advocate de Blasio has long been a supporter of preventing referrals of homeless New Yorkers to substandard and overcrowded housing. As a member of the City Council and chair of the General Welfare Committee, de Blasio held oversight hearings to examine DHS’ housing referral and placement practices. He also introduced legislation which would prohibit referrals of homeless adults to illegal and overcrowded facilities.

“We all have a responsibility to prevent homeless New Yorkers from ending up in dangerous and dilapidated housing,” de Blasio said. “I commend and thank the Department of Homeless Services and Speaker Quinn for working together to create a more comprehensive system to prevent the homeless from being referred to overcrowded housing. I hope going forward we can continue to work together to improve living conditions for our City’s most vulnerable populations.”

“I thank the Speaker, Commissioner Hess, and the Public Advocate for their efforts to combat this serious issue,” General Welfare Committee Chair Annabel Palma said. “This new pilot program will assist shelter providers in making appropriate referrals, will help inform homeless adults about safe housing and will make a life-changing difference in the lives of homeless New Yorkers.”

For the purposes of the pilot, Homeless Services will focus on buildings with five or fewer units, as these buildings are least regulated and most at risk of dangerous conditions due to illegal conversion. Furthermore, providers in pilot shelters will assist clients with making complaints to the Department of Buildings should they return from viewing a unit that they believe violates the referral guidelines.

To help educate clients about safe housing, Homeless Services will also distribute a document to clients informing them about the new policy so that they are able to make informed choices about where they will live. In consultation with the City Council, Homeless Services will evaluate this 6- month pilot and its impact on housing placements from the shelter system, and will then decide how to implement a system-wide process to help ensure that adults leave a shelter to safe and appropriate permanent housing.

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