On Monday, April 29, Coalition for the Homeless and The Legal Aid Society presented testimony before the New York City Council’s Committee on General Welfare and Committee on Housing and Buildings regarding three-quarter houses.
Three-quarter houses are typically one- or two-family dwellings that have been converted to boarding houses by cramming dozens of beds into every corner of the building. These houses are often extremely overcrowded, and frequently have health and safety violations. Furthermore, three-quarter house operators do not always acknowledge residents’ tenancy rights, and some engage in fraudulent use of public benefits. Many three-quarter house tenants have dealt with homelessness, the criminal justice system, or addiction, which makes them particularly vulnerable to landlords who would put their health and safety at risk for the sake of profit. The Coalition and allies have been speaking out against problems in three-quarter houses for several years, but more oversight and enforcement are still needed.
The testimony emphasized the importance of creating safer, more stable housing options for New Yorkers:
The direct referral of homeless individuals from shelters to three-quarter houses has been largely abated due to a rule promulgated in 2010 prohibiting such referrals, in response to heavy pressure from the City Council, which was ready to pass a Local Law to forbid the practice. However, operators have found other sources of residents to fill their beds, including parolees, people with disabilities, people with substance use histories who are seeking treatment, and others who are unwilling to access DHS shelters. Many individuals in three-quarter houses struggle with housing instability, criminal justice involvement, and a lack of access to appropriate health and mental health care and substance use treatment. The lack of appropriate housing subsidies or other paths to stability for this population means that these vulnerable New Yorkers remain trapped in dangerous and unlawful three-quarter houses.
Coalition for the Homeless and the Legal Aid Society therefore support Intro 153-A, codifying a three-quarter house task force with authority to enforce existing laws, provide assistance to residents of three-quarter houses, and report regularly on progress.
Furthermore, the fact that New Yorkers with extremely low incomes struggle to find more stable housing placements than three-quarter houses underscores the urgent need to increase the supply of permanent affordable housing. The continued existence of substandard three-quarter houses is one manifestation of the affordable housing crisis in New York City. We have urged Mayor de Blasio to rectify this issue by committing more of his Housing New York 2.0 plan to homeless and extremely low-income New Yorkers. The House Our Future NY Campaign calls on Mayor de Blasio to set aside 30,000 apartments for homeless New Yorkers, including 24,000 newly constructed apartments, in order to realign his housing plan with the reality of record homelessness. Additionally, the City should accelerate the pipeline of new permanent supportive housing for people struggling with mental health and substance use issues, rather than leaving vulnerable New Yorkers with few choices other than three-quarter houses.
The full testimony can be read here.