This month, the City Council and the House Our Future NY campaign convinced Mayor de Blasio and his administration to build significantly more permanent affordable housing for homeless New Yorkers. But even as we celebrate this new commitment, another council vote just two weeks before demonstrated that the mayor and the city council still have to get serious about investing in the creation of new, better shelters as well if we are truly going to solve homelessness in our city.
The Council’s action makes it the law that every newly constructed affordable housing project over a certain size must set aside at least 15 percent of its units for homeless households. This historic legislation is expected to generate as many as a thousand more units a year for the city’s families who need housing most.
Gateway Housing was an early supporter of both House Our Future NY and the legislation sponsored by Council Member Rafael Salamanca, so we’re more than pleased to see the Mayor’s ambitious affordable housing development plan finally devoting more of its resources to addressing homelessness. But the victory is incomplete: just a week before, the Council used its power to stop construction of a new type of model shelter just as essential to our efforts to break the intergenerational cycle of homelessness in New York.
In the earlier vote, the Council transferred ownership of almost a full block of city-owned land at 515 Blake Avenue in East New York to HELP USA, a respected nonprofit provider that has operated a 191-unit family shelter at the site for almost 30 years. HELP’s original plan was to replace the worn-out facility with a state-of-the-art shelter caring for the same number of families, and add 326 units of new affordable permanent housing, along with stores and other community amenities.
HELP used its decades of experience to design a shelter that put the needs of homeless families first. The temporary apartments would have been more spacious, the program space more inviting. The shelter would have been broken into smaller, more manageable sections, and would have had licensed childcare and outdoor play areas.
But the local council member Inez Barron demanded that this new and greatly improved facility be taken out of the development entirely, claiming her district was saturated with shelters. Her opposition may have been good politics for her, but it’s terrible policy for the people of East New York.
With over 100,000 New Yorkers becoming homeless each year, and the average New York City shelter stay lasting more than a year, East New York and neighborhoods across the city need more high-quality shelters, not less.
Gateway Housing is working with nonprofits and government to do exactly this, creating nonprofit owned and operated shelters that look more like housing, and are integrated with new, co-located permanent affordable housing.
Nonprofit-owned shelters are better shelters: they are designed with residents in mind, are less expensive to build (because there’s no profit) and are good long-term investments for the city because they will be available to the community in perpetuity (not just until the lease runs out). And if the project uses city-owned land, as this one did, the costs are lower still.
The redeveloped HELP USA shelter would have also offered homeless East New York families and children a place to stay close to home, keeping them connected to their schools, doctors, houses of worship and networks of support.
More than 2,800 homeless people sleeping in the city’s shelters tonight come from East New York. But without the Blake Avenue shelter, there will be fewer than 1,700 shelter beds in that Brooklyn neighborhood, 500 of those in crowded hotels inappropriate for raising children. By blocking the HELP One shelter redevelopment, the council member guaranteed that at least 1,600 East New Yorkers experiencing housing emergencies will either have to stay in substandard hotel rooms, or in shelters far from their community. It’s hard to see who benefits.
We would love to solve homelessness just by building more permanent housing. But, as much as it helps, more housing alone is no longer enough. A crowded, high-cost city like New York will always need shelters, especially in today’s heated real estate market.
Let’s take a moment to celebrate the new 15% homeless housing setaside. Give a pat on the back to Council Member Salamanca, General Welfare Committee Chair Steve Levin, Speaker Corey Johnson and the many people in the de Blasio administration who figured out a way to fund and implement this historic commitment.
But we can’t afford to be satisfied with this achievement, because the choice is no longer as simple as shelter versus housing. Housing is clearly the solution to homelessness. But we also need shelters and the choice there is good shelters or bad. If the mayor and the city council are truly serious about addressing homelessness, they must commit to redeveloping and building more high-quality, nonprofit-owned shelters. They should start by finding a site for a new shelter in East New York.
Gateway Housing is excited to support HELP USA’s transformative redevelopment of the 515 Blake Avenue block in East New York, which was presented last week to the New York City Council for approval under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). The redevelopment has already been approved by the Brooklyn Borough President and the City Planning Commission, and needs only a green light from City Council to begin construction on one of the most innovative multi-use residential projects in the city this year.
The redevelopment will tear down an aging shelter in dire need of repair to build a new facility with 195 improved units of temporary housing for families. The project will also provide 326 new permanent affordable housing units to the East New York community. More than half of the new housing will be permanently affordable for very low income New Yorkers, including 42 units of supportive housing, 78 units of affordable housing for formerly homeless New Yorkers and 51 units for households making below 50 percent of the Area Median Income.
The new development will be modern and more attractive, replacing the forbidding fence that currently surrounds the existing shelter with outward-facing buildings that enhance streetlife in the neighborhood. The ground floor will offer a licensed early childhood education center, a black box theatre and retail spaces affordable to neighborhood residents.
Most importantly, HELP USA will replace an outdated shelter with two smaller, innovative shelters using trauma-informed design to allow more personalized attention and support to homeless children and their families.
At Gateway Housing, we believe the ultimate solution to homelessness is permanent housing. But in a high-cost city like New York, there will always be people in crisis who need temporary housing. And New York City’s tight housing market means homeless families often take months to find permanent housing they can afford. We owe it to their children to make sure they spend those months – even years – not in dangerous hotels with no services, but in the most supportive, least traumatic environment possible, close to home and integrated with permanent housing in the surrounding neighborhood.
In other words, the HELP USA development at 515 Blake is exactly the kind of community investment that New York needs. Gateway Housing is proud to support HELP USA and the City Council in making this innovative project a reality.
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.
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