Warehousing the Homeless: The Rising Use of Illegal Boarding Houses to Shelter Homeless New Yorkers

Januray 20, 2008 – A new research study released by Coalition for the Homeless finds that the Bloomberg administration has placed hundreds of homeless individuals – many of them living with mental illness and other disabilities – into dozens of illegal boarding houses with hazardous conditions already documented by City inspectors as part of a short-sighted effort to reduce the population of homeless men in the City’s single-adult shelter system.

The study, Warehousing the Homeless, finds that through January 2008, at least ten of the illegal boarding houses used by the City to shelter homeless New Yorkers have been condemned or ordered vacated, and many of the homeless adults consigned there have returned to municipal shelters. In each instance officials at the city’s Department of Homeless Services as well as Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs were alerted in advance of the dangerous and illegal conditions in these buildings. City officials were aware of violations documented by City inspectors, as well as warnings from advocates and the residents themselves. Yet City officials still approved the use of illegal boarding houses as a temporary means to reduce the population of single adults in shelter.

“This new policy has created a veritable cottage industry in New York City: Illegal boarding houses for homeless adults. The data in this report documents how the administration’s short-sighted effort to reduce the single shelter population in the face of rising overall homelessness has fueled a market for squalid and dangerous dwellings located primarily in the outer boroughs,” said Mary Brosnahan, Executive Director of Coalition for the Homeless.

The report identified 62 illegal boarding houses to which the City has referred homeless adults over the past two years. City housing inspectors issued 654 “hazardous” code violations against these buildings, and the Department of Buildings issued 226 violations against 47 of these houses for illegal use and dangerous conditions.

Coalition for the Homeless called on the Bloomberg administration to reform its policies for the referral and placement of homeless New Yorkers into housing.

“The City of New York needs to immediately cease these dangerous placements and ensure that homeless people are referred to housing that is safe and appropriate,” said Lindsey Davis, a community organizer at the Coalition and the author of the report.

“There is no way to get around this problem unless New York City makes a substantial investment in supportive housing. The only way to achieve a genuine and lasting reduction of the number of homeless New Yorkers, as well as protect people with living with mental illness, is to build more supportive housing and other low-income housing. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts,” added Davis.