Today’s Read: Cluster-Site Shelters

The Coalition has long derided the use of informal and often dubious deals between the City and private landlords to provide emergency shelter for families. Begun in the last years of the Giuliani Administration and expanded during the Bloomberg Administration, the practice of using affordable apartment units – often crumbling in decay – as a stop-gap solution to the crisis in family shelter capacity has become an increasingly common and expensive practice.  The “scatter site,” or more recently dubbed “cluster site,” shelters not only take affordable apartments off the market, but cost the taxpayers millions in inflated payments to the landlords.

Vice News recently looked into the system, interviewing several of the cluster site apartment residents:

M is brash, earnest, often on the lookout for ways to supplement the $15 he says he gets in monthly food stamps. He doesn’t like the guards at Freedom House, and he doesn’t understand how New York City’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS) justifies spending so much money to lodge him there. He’s got a budget letter listing the amount that the city pays the shelter every month for the small room that he and a relative share in the dorm-style building, with one kitchen for 400 people. M points bitterly to the total: $3,735. Every month. [Source]

That’s $3,735 per month to put one family in a homeless shelter. The average cost of a subsidy to put that same family in in permanent housing is just one-third of that.

There was hope when, earlier this year, the de Blasio Administration announced it would wisely shift funding from the cluster site apartments to permanent housing subsidies. But the plan was met with resistance when Aguila, Inc., a nonprofit charged with overseeing cluster sites, filed paperwork to evict nearly 500 families rather than agree to a reduction in the bloated rental payments.

“Some of the landlords didn’t want to see the rates lowered,” [Patrick] Markee said of the closures.

The notices didn’t say when the evictions would happen and, although some of the removals have gone ahead, Aguila still hasn’t clarified its plan for the remaining facilities.

“Everyone knows they’re being moved out, but they don’t know when,” Ryan Hickey, housing organizer at the advocacy organization Picture The Homeless, told VICE News. “If Aguila is pulling out of the shelter business, that means hundreds, if not thousands, of people are in limbo.” [Source]

Since hearing of these impending evictions, the Coalition has been meeting regularly with the families involved and is working to ensure that the issues are resolved before more lives are upended.