The New York City Independent Budget Office’s unfortunate new report: Does Proximity to a Homeless Shelter Affect Residential Property Values in Manhattan? is a unreliable muddle masquerading as science. It uses a flawed methodology and a miniscule sample size to jump to conclusions that are questionable at best. It will confirm the worst biases of NIMBYists who will rush to use it to stop new, better shelters from being built in their neighborhoods – and keep homeless children warehoused in overcrowded, substandard hotels. This report is far below the IBO’s usual high standards.
On such an important issue as this one — the costs and benefits of homeless shelters in our neighborhoods — the IBO owed it to the public to make sure its methods were flawless and its evidence incontrovertible. It came up short of those standards, and should never have published. Now we have a damaging headline, unsupported by its meager evidence. No one benefits from this.
The problems with the report’s methodology are obvious. It looks at just 39 of the city’s 530 shelters and a tiny 7.6 percent of home sales, to conclude that properties close to shelters have lower values. The report never looks at property values before and after a shelter opened, to see if the shelter’s presence was the actual cause of this decline. And it puts blinders on to avoid taking into account the downward economic effects of the disamenities that often surround shelters – the freeways, emergency rooms, waste transfer stations and such that tend to be the only neighbors that have accepted shelters in the past.
Indeed, the report notes, almost as an afterthought, that being on the same block as the shelter had no impact. Somehow, being within 500 feet of a shelter brings down property values, but being on the same block does not? Faced with conclusions like that, most researchers would take a step back and try to figure out what went wrong with their methods. They certainly wouldn’t rush to print.
No matter. The report is out, and it will be used by homeowners concerned about the city’s softening real estate market to pin the blame squarely on homeless families. This is particularly unfortunate timing, as the present administration has recently done much to increase funding for services and security in shelters, and is trying to get out of squalid shelter hotels by building a new generation of better, more humane nonprofit-run shelters that most of us would be quite happy to live near.
The IBO notes that the report’s conclusions are different from a report by NYU’s Furman Center that found permanent supportive housing for homeless people actually increases nearby property values, claiming the conclusions likely vary because of differences between homeless shelters and supportive housing residences. Actually, it’s far more likely that differences in methodology, like Furman’s use of before and after data, account for the disparate findings of the two reports. And please don’t use the two reports to make an either-or argument for supportive housing over shelter – we need them both: good shelters to respond to New Yorkers’ housing emergencies without stuffing them into bad hotels, and more permanent supportive housing to solve homelessness in the long term.
There are plenty of examples of well-run nonprofit shelters that have had positive impacts on their residents and the community, and contribute to the safety and security of the surrounding neighborhood. Gateway Housing is working with the city and providers to redevelop existing shelters in need of repair into nonprofit-owned and operated shelters with affordable housing and services for the community on-site. Doing so improves the shelters and adds amenities to the neighborhood, benefiting the shelter residents and their neighbors – and bringing up property values. We hope the IBO will take another, more careful look at the very good work being done by nonprofits and the city to both shelter the most vulnerable among us and improve our communities.