Community Board 7 held its first ad hoc committee meeting on homelessness issues in the neighborhood on Thursday, January 5 in an effort to further educate the community on the rising number of homeless shelters within hotels.
Attendees included Dan Tietz, the chief special service operator at Human Resources Administration (HRA), Matt Borden, assistant commissioner of governing affairs for Department of Homeless Services (DHS), and Matt Borden, assistant commissioner of governing affairs for DHS.
Chair of the new committee, Arun Singh, led the meeting.
“A year ago, the mayor announced that there would be a 90 day review of DHS services and the commissioner of HRA Steve Banks became the commissioner of the new combined department of social services that includes both HRA and DHS,” said Tietz while explaining the role of the two groups. “Since the end of that 90 day review of March and April of 2016, we’ve been working on a consolidation between the two agencies.”
Throughout the presentation, Tietz did most of the talking, outlining the rising problem. “You don’t have to look very far to recognize that New York City has a challenge with regards to homelessness,” he said. “That is a challenge in regards to affordable housing and making sure that people with limited means have a place to live.”
He also discussed the problems within the community itself. “This community specifically is admittedly in some number of hotels,” Tietz admitted. “We’re in those hotels in the absence of other purpose built shelters. If we had adequate other purpose built shelters, then we wouldn’t be in hotels.”
Tietz also mentioned getting rid of cluster housing, a practice where the city would take a certain number of apartment units in a building and would rent those units from landlords and use them as shelters. “We think that’s not a sensible approach that really hasn’t worked for communities for families, or money wise,” he said. “We are committed to returning those cluster units to affordable housing stock.”
Delvis Valdes of the Village of Sunset Park, responded with concerns, especially with cluster sites. “You mentioned cluster sites that are apartments with bathrooms and kitchens as opposed to hotel rooms and you said hotel rooms aren’t an ideal situation,” he said. “It seems like you’re phasing out the cluster sites in favor of hotel sites. Don’t you think apartments with facilities would be better than hotels?”
Tietz contended that they are not paying rental rates that the public would normally pay but are potentially paying more.
According to Borden, there is currently one men’s shelter on 49th Street that has 150 rooms which is currently screening as a shelter and not a commercial home, as well as five separate locations with about 200 rooms.
The lack of clarity frustrated board members.
District Manager of CB 7 Jeremy Laufer also presented his displeasure with the lack of communication between these agencies and the community. “We got less than a week’s notice regarding 49th street,” he explained. “Nobody contacted us about helping find a space in this community. You mentioned that we worked to help find spaces. That’s not what happened.”
Zachary Jasie, second vice chair of CB 7, also presented his problems with the shelter. “On 39th Street and Fifth Avenue, characters would change drastically,” he said. “Whether or not it’s families, it’s the men that are out on the corner. My in-laws were staying at Wyndham Hotel. At 1 a.m., I had to pick them up because there was a fight next door.”
More meetings on the subject are slated to follow.