Housing Homeless Provides Payday for NYC Landlords

Because of an acute shortage in accommodations for the city's homeless, NYC's Department of Homeless Services (DHS) is willing to pay exorbitant sums to house the needy in privately owned buildings. The practice is not without its critics.
February 11, 2013, 5am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Joseph Berger spotlights the DHS's lucrative practice of subsidizing the private operational of homeless shelters, which has persuaded landlords such as Alan Lapes, who owns or leases about 20 of the 231 shelters citywide, to convert their buildings (often one room at a time) into shelters. 

"With the number of homeless people rising to 30-year record levels — over 47,216 people as of early this month, 20,000 of them children — the city has struggled to find landlords willing to accommodate a population that includes people with mental health and substance abuse problems. So the city has resorted to housing adults in single-room-occupancy buildings originally designed for long-term residents who pay stabilized rents," explains Berger.

"Most of the other shelters and residences are run by the city or by nonprofit agencies, but [Lapes's] operation is profit-making, prompting criticism from advocates for the homeless and elected officials."

"Mr. Lapes has lately stirred anger for his contracts through the Department of Homeless Services. More than 200 residents and elected officials packed a community meeting last week to express outrage at the transformation of two buildings he owns on West 95th Street into homeless shelters, without the usual public and legislative scrutiny."

“The city needs to make sure there’s affordable housing instead of waiting for shysters to come forward to make thousands of dollars off these poor unfortunate people,” State Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat, said at the meeting, promising to push for reforms. “Getting rid of the profit motive will reduce some of the bad actors.”

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Published on Friday, February 8, 2013 in The New York Times
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