February 1, 2007 - A research study by Coalition for the Homeless finds that over the past two years, thousands of homeless families have been placed into apartment buildings with hazardous conditions as a result of lax standards and weak inspection rules in the New York City Department of Homeless Services' two-year-old "Housing Stability Plus" program. As a result, many formerly homeless families and their children have suffered from lead poisoning, lack of heat and hot water, vermin infestation and other hazardous conditions.
Advocates from the Coalition for the Homeless and formerly homeless families living in hazardous apartment buildings came together to release Homeless Families at Risk: Hazardous Conditions in the Housing Stability Plus Program - a report documenting conditions in 1,893 buildings that housed 2,850 HSP families in the program's first year.
"We give the Bloomberg administration enormous credit for stepping up to the plate and creating a locally funded rent subsidy program for homeless families. However, this report makes clear that the program is in a need of a gut rehab in order to truly provide safe, affordable, stable homes for homeless families and individuals in New York City," said Mary Brosnahan, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Homeless.
Among the report's key findings:
• Two of every five HSP families - 1,136 families - were placed by the City into buildings that have at least two or three hazardous violations per apartment
(depending on building size), as documented by City housing inspectors. This standard, modeled on the City's own definition of a "major problem landlord," has been proposed by the New York City Council leadership in pending legislation that would address hazardous housing conditions for homeless New Yorkers.
• One of every five HSP families was placed into an apartment with five or more hazardous violations per apartment.
• Violations documented in HSP buildings include lead paint hazards, broken windows, collapsed ceilings and floors, non-working appliances and fixtures, as well as a lack of heat, hot water, and electricity.
• The Department of Homeless Services has placed families in buildings owned by at least 14 landlords who have been identified by the City's own housing agency as "major problem owners." These notorious slumlords include Moshe Piller, the Palazzolo Investment Group, Ari Schwartz, Barry Singer, Ved Parkash, and Jacob Selechnick. To date the City has provided these negligent property owners with millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies through the Housing Stability Plus program.
New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, said, "All New Yorkers deserve safe, stable housing free of hazardous conditions. Indeed, when the City places families in apartments through its Housing Stability Plus program--and pays for that housing--we should expect nothing less. This report shows clearly that the City needs to act. My office will be working with the Mayor's office and the Department of Homeless Services in the coming weeks to make sure we only subsidize housing that is safe and secure. Homeless families should not be thrown out of the frying pan and into the fire when placed in city-funded apartments."
"Since the inception of Housing Stability Plus in 2004, the City has been placing thousands of families into apartments with unsafe and unhealthy living conditions. The facts speak for themselves: half of HSP families in Brooklyn, for example, are living in apartment buildings with hazardous violations. It is clear that HSP needs extensive and immediate reform in order to achieve the goal of providing stable, secure homes for our City's homeless population," said City Councilmember Bill deBlasio, Chairman of the Council's General Welfare Committee.
The Coalition for the Homeless called on the Bloomberg administration to implement reforms in order to protect homeless children and families from harm.
"Before the Bloomberg administration debuted this flawed program, homeless families received permanent housing through federal Section 8 vouchers. Section 8 should be the model in guaranteeing apartments are safe and free from health hazards," said Patrick Markee, Senior Policy Analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless.
"Specifically the Bloomberg administration should require re-inspections before families sign leases to ensure that necessary repairs are made to apartments -- and the city should abolish the use of self-certifying landlord ‘repair agreements'," continued Markee.
"If the Bloomberg administration fails to make these reforms, the City Council should work with Speaker Christine Quinn and Chairman Bill deBlasio to pass legislation that would - at the very least - set minimum housing quality standards for buildings in which HSP recipients are placed," said Markee.