As you may have read in AMNY, New York is not dead, but tens of thousands of apartments here are empty. This presents an unprecedented opportunity to house every New Yorker experiencing homelessness. As a city, we have a moral mandate to permanently house our homeless now. We can do so by creating tens of thousands of affordable housing units in existing empty apartments, including in our tallest buildings and wealthiest neighborhoods. No matter what neighborhood we live in, we can all welcome unhoused New Yorkers onto our block and into our buildings.
More than 16,000 children wake up in a city shelter every day. Just over 10,000 families account for a 30,000 person majority of those living in shelters. With over 15,000 vacant Manhattan rentals and 4,100 vacant condominiums dating back before the pandemic, we now have more vacant apartments than homeless families. The city should buy these vacant condominiums and secure long-term leases on vacant rental apartments to provide transitional and permanent housing for the homeless. Opening up space in family shelters would then allow single adults experiencing homelessness to utilize buildings currently used as family shelters, enabling social distancing and providing greater privacy than the dormitory-style shelters, where the majority of single adults currently reside, sleeping in rooms with many people close together.
Prior to the pandemic, New York City paid $3.2 billion a year on costly shelter beds and commercial hotels. We pay far more to shelter families than it would cost to supplement their rent and provide them with a permanent home. According to the Mayor’s Management Report, it costs over $6,000 per month to provide shelter for a family with children, and approximately $3,900 per month to shelter a single adult, and those costs will rise this year to accommodate Covid-19 public safety measures. Meanwhile, the average length of stay in shelter has only gotten longer. According to last fiscal year’s reporting, families with children average 443 days at a shelter and single adults average 431 days—despite the thousands of vacant apartments waiting for renters.
New York City needs to be bold and start using these empty apartments to house our homeless. For my full proposal, read the op-ed at AMNY.