The de Blasio administration is preparing to house homeless New Yorkers in hotels for at least another six months, despite the uproar the practice has caused in some neighborhoods.
City officials have reached an agreement with the Hotel Association of New York City to extend an existing contract to use hotels to house homeless individuals, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
The original contract was signed at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in April. The city eventually moved 10,000 adults (more than half of the non-family homeless population) from congregate shelters — where 10 to 12 people on average were sharing a room — to hotel rooms, in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. These 10,000 individuals were relocated to 63 hotels across the city, where for the most part they got to live in rooms by themselves and could socially distance.
Over the summer, some communities, most notably the Upper West Side, complained about the city’s use of commercial hotels in their neighborhoods, claiming homeless men were engaging in public drug use, loitering and lewd behavior.
At the end of September, Mayor Bill de Blasio gave in to the demands of UWS residents and said the city would move homeless men out of the neighborhood’s Lucerne Hotel, which drew the greatest number of complaints. At the time he said he would “start the process of figuring out where we can get homeless individuals back into safe shelter facilities and reduce the reliance on hotels.”
The extension of the contract implies this isn’t likely to happen soon.
“As a city, we are not currently in a position where health experts say it is safe for individuals to return to congregate shelters,” said Isaac McGinn, a spokesman for the Department of Social Services. “We will continue to evaluate all factors/facts as our city works to reopen while ensuring virus rates remain low.”
The value of the original contract with the hotel association is close to $300 million, according to information from the city comptroller’s office. The city says it is paying $120 on average per room.
Josh Goldfein, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, welcomed the news about the contract extension. He’s been representing homeless people in the hotels and said the mayor’s remarks about returning people to congregate shelters were “very concerning.”
“The city’s use of hotels has saved people’s lives,” he said.
So far, 104 homeless New Yorkers have died after contracting COVID-19. Infection rates decreased over time, possibly due to the use of hotels.
The president and CEO of the Hotel Association, Vijay Dandapani, also said he “fully expects” the contract will be extended. He noted the arrangement benefits his members as well as people experiencing homelessness, since hotels have otherwise remained largely empty during the pandemic.
“It’s a really good agreement for the city and obviously for the hotel owners because there’s zero business, or close to zero business in terms of tourism or business travel,” he said.