Op-Ed: To Turn Around the City’s Homelessness Crisis, Embrace Housing as the Answer

Originally published in Crain’s New York.

As the city continues to flail under the crushing weight of its housing and homelessness crisis, the recently released mayor’s management report tells us two important things about Mayor Eric Adams.

The first is a good thing: He has taken some positive steps toward providing more meaningful housing metrics in the report—in contrast to the previous mayor’s frustrating reliance on obfuscation and spin. But what these metrics show brings us to the second point: Adams seems to have no intention of actually addressing mass homelessness.

The city’s homelessness crisis is at its core a housing crisis—a notion embraced by Adams himself during his mayoral campaign last year, during which he promised to move homeless New Yorkers into permanent housing and increase the housing capital budget to $4 billion per year.

But since being elected, Adams has paid only lip service to the city’s immediate and desperate need for vastly more affordable housing, dedicating far less funding for housing than promised.

Moving the goal posts

According to the report, the city financed only 16,042 affordable housing units in fiscal 2022, down 45% from 29,408 the year prior. Only 9,625 of these housing units were new construction, with the rest being preservation of existing housing.

Rather than acknowledging that this level of production fails to move us toward the goal of reducing homelessness, the mayor moved the goal posts: The annual target for housing production was lowered from 25,000 to 18,000 units.

Just as troubling, the subset of housing started specifically for homeless households dropped by 24% last fiscal year, to only 2,170 units. To put these numbers in perspective, the same report notes that 45,563 people in 26,463 households slept in Department of Homeless Services shelters on an average night last year. All of this has been exacerbated in recent months by the large number of asylum seekers coming to the city.

While the mayor touted an increase in the number of homeless households that moved into affordable housing financed by the city, that figure was a mere 2,203 households for the entire year. The number of unique individuals in the DHS shelter system at some point over the course of a year consistently exceeds 100,000.

The impact of the mayor’s failure to create housing options for homeless New Yorkers is further evidenced by another troubling metric in the report: The average length of stay in DHS shelters has risen to all-time highs, with single adults spending an average of 509 days in shelters, families with children spending 534 days, and adult families spending a staggering 855 days. This comes at a massive human and financial cost; DHS spends an average of $186 per family each day they sleep in a shelter.

Heed the numbers

Adams has a unique opportunity to dramatically improve the city for all who live, work and travel here. He must commit to producing at least 6,000 apartments per year for homeless households and 6,000 apartments per year for households with extremely low incomes.

Doing so would cement his legacy as the mayor who finally turned around the city’s homelessness crisis, if he would just heed his own numbers and do what he promised to do: embrace housing as the answer.

Jacquelyn Simone is policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless.