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.

DHS released the results of the 2019 HOPE count last month, estimating that there were 3,588 unsheltered homeless people in 2019. This is 2.4% fewer than last year and 7.8% fewer than the count two years ago, though the 2019 estimate is still higher than the numbers found in 2008-2016. Read the city’s press release here, the NY Times coverage here, and Curbed’s more skeptical take here.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced five new multi-agency anti-poverty initiatives, including a new program that builds on the work of Gateway Housing’s Improving School Attendance for Homeless Children (ISAHC) pilot.

Led by the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, the new city program will consolidate and streamline access to attendance data and other information to help improve school attendance for homeless children living in 25 shelters. Designed by the Department of Education (DOE) Office of Community Schools and New Visions for Public Schools, the innovative database system will allow shelter staff to use up-to-the-minute data to better coordinate efforts to improve school transportation and identify homeless children who are having trouble going to school on a regular basis.

In designing DOE’s new database, New Visions spent time with Gateway’s ISAHC teams to better understand the training needs of shelter and DOE staff, and to see how the ISAHC program uses data and interagency coordination to improve school attendance.

Designed by Dr. Judith Samuels, the ISAHC model employs a team approach that brings together DOE and shelter provider staff, including new social workers funded by the ThriveNYC initiative. The ISAHC team meets together weekly, to review current data, check progress and employ evidence-based practices to work with families to address social and logistical barriers to school attendance.

After one school year of operation, ISAHC is already achieving results. Funded by the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, Robin Hood Foundation and the New York Community Trust, the ISAHC program is now operating in five shelters operated by BronxWorks, Win and HELP USA. All five shelters will be included in the new city initiative. The pilot is being tracked and tested by Drs. Jay Bainbridge and Dan Treglia, and the City of New York’s Center for Innovation through Data Intelligence (CIDI).

“Gateway’s ISAHC program shows how better coordination between schools and shelters through shared data can help us improve homeless children’s school attendance.  We’re building on what we’ve learned with our colleagues at ISAHC, DHS and our participating schools,” said Mike Hickey, the Executive Director of Students in Temporary Housing at the Department of Education.

“We’re excited by the opportunity afforded by the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity to add to what we have learned through ISAHC,” said Doreen Thomann-Howe, Interim Deputy Commissioner for Family Services at DHS, “we’re hoping to see a positive impact on school attendance.”

Gateway Housing is excited to see the work of the ISAHC initiative expanded and complemented by the new city initiative. We look forward to further collaboration with DHS and DOE in the essential work of getting homeless kids to school.

The West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH) is well on its way to building the first residence of the Gateway Housing Development Initiative, the transformation of the 30-year-old Valley Lodge shelter into “WSFSSH at West 108,” a model mixed-use development that integrates transitional shelter, permanent affordable housing and community amenities on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Gateway Housing has been working with WSFSSH and other leading New York City nonprofit service providers to redevelop existing shelter sites into residential buildings containing both transitional and permanent housing units, as well as amenities that strengthen the surrounding community.

One of New York City’s most experienced nonprofit affordable and supportive housing developers, WSFSSH closed on financing in December 2018 to redevelop Valley Lodge, a 92-bed shelter it operates for homeless seniors on West 108th Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues. The shelter building has been demolished (along with two adjacent City-owned parking garages) to make room for a new building that will have 110 shelter beds, 198 affordable permanent housing units (including 119 supportive housing apartments), and community facilities that include a healthcare center, office space for a local nonprofit, and new comfort stations for the adjacent playground.

The residents of the original shelter were moved to a temporary location at West 85th Street, in order to preserve valuable shelter capacity for older adults during construction. When construction of the new residence is completed, shelter residents will return to West 108th Street, and the West 85th Street location will be rehabilitated into permanent supportive housing.

The new building was designed by Dattner Architects, and the General Contractor is Procida Construction Corp.  Capital financing for the shelter was provided through a first mortgage loan from Chase secured by the Department of Homeless Services contract; capital financing for the permanent housing was provided by the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development Supportive Housing Loan Program, HDC Bond, HDC ELLA Loan, NYS OTDA/HHAP funding, plus federal low-income housing tax credits syndicated through the National Equity Fund (NEF) and secured by Chase. The project is currently finishing up demolition, and construction will begin in May 2019. The new Valley Lodge is expected to be open at the end of 2020, and the full building will be operational by early 2021. Below is a rendering of what the new residence will look like when completed.

“As a long-term partner in the movement to reconsider shelter design and homeless housing in NYC, WSFSSH was excited to forge an alliance with Gateway Housing in 2015, as the redevelopment of Valley Lodge Shelter was getting underway,” said Paul Freitag, Executive Director of West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing. “Many financing, design and programming options were examined and evaluated with Gateway.  We are thrilled that the core concepts and the mission to create an inclusive home, expand the historic characterization of shelter, strengthen resident links to stable housing and engage the local community will be dynamic elements of WSFSSH at West 108.”

Fewer homeless people died in 2018 than the previous year but it was the second most since the city started reporting. At least 290 homeless people died in fiscal year 2018, according to a city report that is mandated by City Council legislation. The Department of Homeless Services, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner reported 290 homeless people died while the Human Resources Administration reported 53 deaths. (The two numbers cannot be added together because they may be double counting some of people. The individuals counted by HRA cannot be compared to the other names to protect their privacy.)

Drug related deaths were once again the leading cause of death for homeless people in New York City. Going a little deeper shows some bad new and some not-as-bad news. The total number of drug related deaths decreased in 2018 to 99 from 103 the previous year. The decrease comes from a drop in deaths due to chronic drug use, to 6 deaths in 2018 from 17 the previous year. But 93 homeless people died from accidental drug overdoses, a new record high.

The number of homeless people dying of heart disease, once the leading cause of death, declined in 2018, down to 42 compared to 53 the previous year. In addition, 36 homeless people died in accidents and four died from exposure to the cold. Also, 11 people committed suicide and seven were victims of homicide. Seven homeless infants died in 2018.

The high number of accidental overdose deaths shows the continued effects of the opioid epidemic on homeless people. And though the number of homeless people that died from heart disease decreased, we know that homeless people have much shorter life expectancies and more work needs to be done to fight that and prevent more of these health-related deaths. And it’s incredibly sad how many homeless people take their own lives or are victims of violence.

Politico’s Dan Goldberg wrote a story on the report (Headline: Homeless deaths see largest drop in 7 years). It’s paywalled but if you are a Politico Pro subscriber (we’re not, more’s the pity) you can read the story here.

You can read the report here.

Gateway Housing continues to expand its activities in 2019. We continue to work with our nonprofit and government partners to develop and redevelop high quality nonprofit-owned and operated shelters. And we remain committed to piloting and evaluating innovative new transitional programs, like our Improving School Attendance for Homeless Children (ISAHC) initiative. And this year, we will publish reports and best practices policy briefs on what’s working in New York City’s shelters.

Gateway’s mission is to improve the city’s shelter system by supporting and replicating high-quality shelters. But there is currently very little research about which programs and services in transitional housing are most effective.

We’re going to change that, by documenting what makes high-quality shelter programs effective, and showing how a good transitional program can impact the people it serves.

The fact is, that for the foreseeable future, a significant number of people will have housing emergencies in New York City and other high-cost cities.They will need shelter and, unfortunately, they will likely stay a long time – right now, the average length of stay in NYC shelter is 400 days for single adults, 438 days for families with children and a whopping 561 days for adult families (families with no minor children). And there is no silver bullet for high cost markets like New York City’s: development of new housing is slow; rental vouchers chase too few apartments; and rapid rehousing strategies are extremely difficult to scale.

So, even as we continue to advocate for these and other housing-based solutions to homelessness, we will also research what helps people most when they become homeless, what keeps people stay stably housed after shelter, and what helps improve other outcomes, both in shelter and after shelter. We’ll use data to see which programs are showing results, and we’ll document promising existing programs.

We hope you’ll find this information helpful, and will join us in the conversation about the most effective ways to help New Yorkers experiencing homelessness.