“It’s Not the Ritz-Carlton”

Three months after Superstorm Sandy devastated New York, hundreds of evacuees remain in City-funded short-term emergency shelter (and thousands more remain in FEMA-funded temporary placements). But while some evacuees ended up in Manhattan tourist hotels, many others were placed in decrepit rooming-houses and squalid hotels. This Sunday’s Daily News exposé documented the terrible living conditions where some Sandy evacuees still languish.

I’ve done outreach at many of these locations, and – along with my Coalition for the Homeless and Legal Aid colleagues – have witnessed these and other terrible conditions first-hand, including those at two decrepit rooming houses in the Bronx:

“In the beginning, it was kind of shocking,” said a stoic Antonio Ramirez, 60, who was placed in a decaying SRO at 1038 Faile St. in the Bronx that has been cited repeatedly for vermin and fire safety issues.

Ramirez’s tiny, bare-walled apartment has no smoke detector, and outside next to a stove in the hallway a hand-written sign reads, “CLEAN UP AREA — DON’T FEED ROACHES!!!” (Daily News)

Another illegally-converted building on West 128th Street in Manhattan housed dozens of medically frail men and women even while the Department of Buildings had a stop work order on the building. Coalition for the Homeless knows of one case where a woman using a walker was hospitalized after falling down the stairs at the shelter on 128th Street.

In typical unfeeling fashion, Mayor Bloomberg acknowledged that temporary accomodations “are not [like] living at the Ritz-Carlton.”

In addition to terrible conditions, the larger question of long-term housing remains. Coalition for the Homeless’ extensive outreach efforts have found that many evacuees were precariously housed before the storm, in illegal basement apartments, rooms without leases, and doubled up with family members. A significant number have medical needs, including diabetes, asthma, and even cancer. All of these families are struggling to survive on extremely low and limited incomes.

But as the Wall Street Journal reported today, the City’s attempt to match evacuees with affordable housing has been disastrously inadequate. While market-rate apartments remain completely out of reach, the Bloomberg administration has attempted to target “affordable” units to evacuees through the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Of the 1,100 families that have applied for assistance through HPD, over three-quarters are ineligible because their incomes are too low.

Two months after government officials struck a landmark deal with landlords to set aside 2,500 affordable units to house victims of superstorm Sandy, one apartment lease has been signed.

Many of those displaced by the storm are too poor to pay rent even for apartments restricted to city residents with low or middle incomes, while others don’t want to move far from their homes in the Rockaways or Staten Island.

In a narrative all too familiar, now victims of Hurricane Sandy are up against Mayor Bloomberg’s failure to provide for even minimal stability for our most vulnerable citizens. With thousands of our displaced neighbors in dire need of affordable housing, the mayor’s current response – squalid, short-term shelter and no future plan for the stable re-housing of evacuees – remains unsustainable.