Thousands of NYC Apartments for Homeless Remain Vacant Amid Migrant Crisis

Asylum seekers board a bus en route to a shelter at Port Authority Bus Terminal on May 18, 2023, in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images/TNS)

(New York Daily News/TNS) – Thousands of apartments meant for homeless New Yorkers are sitting vacant amid record homelessness and a continuing influx of migrants, according to documents obtained by the Daily News.

Obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request, the documents show that 2,646 of the city’s supportive housing units — which are meant for homeless individuals with a need for social services — were empty on March 31.

On Friday, the city’s Human Resources Administration, which runs the supportive housing program, confirmed homeless individuals have moved into 464 of the vacant units since March 31.

That means at least 2,182 apartments in the supportive housing stock remain unoccupied. A Human Resources Administration spokesman suggested the total number of vacancies could be even higher because more units are added to the system on a rolling basis.

“Over 3,200 new supportive housing units have been brought online since January 2022 and the rate of New Yorkers placed in supportive housing has increased nearly 40% year over year,” the spokesman, Nicholas Jacobelli, said, referring to data showing that about 3,300 New Yorkers were placed in supportive housing between March 2022 and February of this year.

Craig Hughes, a Bronx-based social worker at the Mobilization for Justice, a housing advocacy and legal services nonprofit, said there shouldn’t be a single supportive housing unit vacant in the city at a time when Mayor Eric Adams’ administration claims it’s running out of shelter space due to the migrant crisis.

“There are thousands of eligible people ready to move into them right away,” he said of the supportive housing units.

Hughes also noted that his group previously obtained data showing the city had about 2,600 empty supportive housing units in November 2022, indicating vacancy levels in the system have stayed nearly flat for months.

According to city data, there are more than 31,000 supportive housing units across the five boroughs. A vast majority of them are occupied.

Supportive housing units come with services like mental health and drug abuse counseling onsite. The city owns the buildings that contain such units, and people who are moved into them stay free of charge until they can secure some form of rental subsidy voucher, at which point they are typically able to sign leases to take over the apartments permanently.

Advocates for the homeless have long said the system to apply for supportive housing is needlessly complicated, requiring people living in shelters or on the streets to compile troves of documentation they may not have, like financial statements and health records.

In March 2022, when the issue of empty supportive housing units first came to light, Adams vowed to reform the application system.

“How do you have a vacant apartment, when you need people to be in the apartment and you have so much paperwork that they can’t get in the apartment?” he said at the time. “That is not how I’m going to run this city.”

In recent weeks, Adams has said repeatedly that the local shelter and emergency hotel systems are at a “breaking point,” housing close to 100,000 people — nearly half of whom are migrants.

He also has started sending migrants to live in hotels north of the city, considered plans to house some of them in a shuttered Rikers Island jail, and told local, state and federal officials they must help him find more space to turn into shelter for asylum seekers. On Friday, Adams’ office confirmed the city will start housing migrants in the Lincoln Correctional Facility, a closed state prison in Harlem.

Instead of such drastic actions, Hughes argued it should be a no-brainer for Adams to immediately move homeless New Yorkers into the vacant supportive housing units, which would create more capacity in the shelter system for migrants.

“If the city is serious about managing its capacity crisis, this is a very straightforward way to open a lot of space and give people a chance to leave homelessness behind them,” he said.

The revelations about the empty supportive housing units come as Adams’ administration is seeking permission from a court to suspend the city’s right-to-shelter law.

The law, which dates to 1981, requires the city to provide a bed in a shelter with certain baseline living conditions to anyone who needs it. Lawyers for Adams argued in a letter to a Manhattan Supreme Court justice last week that his administration should no longer have to abide by it as hundreds more asylum seekers arrive every day.

According to city data first reported by Gothamist, 1,142 beds for individual adults and 206 family units in the traditional Department of Homeless Services shelter system sat empty this past Tuesday.

Department spokeswoman Neha Sharma told the outlet that’s because it has to keep some vacancies to “plan for peak capacity while also standing ready to address any new emergencies.”

To Read The Full Story

Are you already a subscriber?
Click to log in!