The conversion is another step in the City’s plan to address the homelessness crisis. On November 19, 2019, the Mayor’s Office announced its transition into the second phase of a plan to convert temporary homeless shelters into permanently affordable housing units. According to the Mayor’s Office, this plan will help not-for-profit housing developers acquire and rehabilitate an additional 14 residential “cluster site” buildings, currently being used to house homeless families, and convert them into over 200 permanent affordable housing units for the homeless.
The cluster site program, which started in 2000, was created to house the homeless in privately owned apartments that were funded by the City. Originally called the “Scatter-Site Program”, the initiative began as a temporary, emergency solution for the City’s homeless population; however, the program quickly became unpopular and criticized for being “haphazard” and unsafe. The City began to aggressively take steps to eliminate this program under the de Blasio administration in 2017. When the City’s second phase is complete, there will be approximately 1,175 units cluster units remaining, which is a 67-percent reduction from the City’s 3,600 cluster units in 2016.
The first phase of this plan was completed earlier this year after the City-funded not-for-profit developers’ acquisition of 17 cluster site buildings which were then converted into permanent affordable housing for over 450 homeless families. This measure also created hundreds of additional units of affordable housing for other families and homeless persons in need.
The second phase will include conversion of 14 buildings which will allow more than 200 homeless families to receive permanent affordable housing with a rent-stabilized lease, regulatory protections, and a rehabilitated apartment. While the conversions are taking place over the coming months, the buildings will continue to be operated as shelter by the City’s Department of Homeless Services which will also fund the cluster apartments and provide services to those residents.
Last week, the City began to directly engage with families experiencing homelessness who are currently residing in these cluster shelter units by going door-to-door to discuss this transition and rehousing opportunity with each household.
Homeless families currently residing at these locations who are prepared for housing permanency once their building has been converted will be offered the opportunity to remain as tenants with a new rent-stabilized lease. The City has ensured that the converted buildings will include regulatory protections to the tenants to preserve their affordability for the long term.
Families that may be seeking other housing, or those in the process of preparing to move to permanent housing elsewhere, or families who may have additional service needs (such as mental health services) and require continued support will transition to alternative shelter locations.
By: Abby Cannon (Abby is the CityLaw intern, and a New York Law School student, Class of 2020.)