A Stark Reminder of the Danger of Illegal Boarding Houses

Two weeks ago, as reported in the New York Times, four men died in two separate fires in Queens and Brooklyn in homes that had been illegally converted to an occupancy much higher than legally allowed. In today’s paper, a follow-up article reiterated the frequency of illegal housing conversions in New York City. Unfortunately, this type of illegally converted, overcrowded housing is a major problem affecting homeless New Yorkers. For more than three years, the Department of Homeless Services has referred thousands of homeless individuals – many of them living with mental illness and other disabilities – into illegal boarding houses marked by the same hazardous conditions that resulted in deaths of these four men.

In January 2008, the Coalition had compiled a list of 62 illegal boarding houses where the City had referred homeless adults. Currently that list has reached 140 addresses, mostly concentrated in central Brooklyn. Of these, approximately 30 have been subsequently ordered vacated by city inspectors due to serious health and safety hazards. The proliferation of these unsafe dwellings is the result of an illegal, and expanding, market enabled by the policies and practices of the NYC Department of Homeless Services. Indeed, at the end of September, the Department of Homeless Services admitted to referring 340 clients to 14 illegal boarding houses that were subsequently vacated due to hazardous conditions. Unfortunately, the Bloomberg administration has adamantly refused to adopt common-sense safeguards to prevent homeless individuals from being referred to these dangerous and inappropriate dwellings.

The Coalition is currently pushing the City Council to pass Intro 963–a bill which would prohibit the referral of homeless adults to these illegal dwellings. In the meantime, learn more about the issue and report addresses of illegal boarding houses in your neighborhood.

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