I testify today in favor of Intro 1524, introduced by Council Member Rafael Salamanca and Intro 1529, introduced by Council Member James Vacca. Both of these bills were introduced at my request.
It is a known fact that New York City is in the midst of a homelessness crisis, and that innovative and comprehensive solutions to this crisis are needed. Today, we are hearing two bills that seek to make temporary housing safer and to better facilitate the elimination of cluster sites, which the Administration has acknowledged must be its goal. Both of these bills seek to promote the health and safety of New York City’s most vulnerable residents.
The first, Intro 1524, requires that during any inspection conducted or overseen by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) related to health, safety, or the physical conditions of a shelter, defined as “temporary emergency housing,” the radiators must also be inspected.
This safety measure must be mandated because malfunctioning radiators can cause severe bodily harm or even death. This was clearly demonstrated in the tragedy in December 2016 when a faulty radiator killed two small children in their temporary cluster-site housing in The Bronx. The radiator in this apartment was reported broken in 2015 by the previous tenant, yet no action by the landlord was taken. If the inspection of the radiators was part of the regular inspection process, perhaps this tragedy could have been avoided.
This risk should be immediately eliminated, and we must do everything we can to be sure the people who access temporary housing are safe. This measure should therefore be implemented immediately.
The second bill, Intro 1529, seeks to regulate and to ensure the reduction and eventual elimination of the cluster site system, which is widely considered to be an important safety and public health goal. The legislation creates an obligation to report to the City Council on the plan for the phase-out of each cluster site, progress made towards the elimination of cluster sites, and on inspections and repairs as well as any new cluster site contracts.
The legislation also requires that the City produce a plan to eliminate cluster sites that utilizes metrics to determine whether the sites should be converted for use as permanent housing for the homeless family residing in the cluster site or for another homeless family, be converted to a stand-alone shelter for homeless families, or no longer be used by the department as shelter or as permanent housing for a homeless family.
The legislation requires that the following metrics be utilized in the plan: first, the condition of the cluster site; second, whether the owner of the building and the provider under contract or similar agreement with the department to operate the cluster sites within the building have cooperated with the department in maintaining the cluster sites; third, whether the cluster site is rent regulated; and fourth, whether the homeless families residing in the cluster sites have expressed an interest in remaining in the cluster site as tenants.
Efforts should be made to only contract with landlords that cooperate to maintain safe premises. Efforts should also be made to promote the availability of rent-regulated housing.
We believe that the reporting mechanisms outlined in the bill would provide the public with the necessary information to monitor the progress that DHS is making on phasing out cluster sites. We believe that this bill will also provide much needed transparency when DHS enters into new contracts to provide homeless services in a cluster site. We applaud the city’s goal of phasing out these cluster sites for sheltering homeless families. However, there presently is no way for the public to monitor and follow the progress made towards this goal. This legislation would provide a necessary tool to monitor this progress.
Finally, the data demonstrate that HPD violations are endemic to cluster sites, and we need to provide safer, better temporary housing options. The City has recognized this in the “Turning the Tide” plan, and this legislation introduced at my request moves the needle in the right direction. I urge the City Council to approve these two important pieces of legislation.