A major milestone in the fight against homelessness was signed into law Monday.
As Mayor Eric Adams stood beside Governor Kathy Hochul as she signed legislation that would allow the conversion of hotels into affordable housing, a sense of hope pervaded the air for the future amidst New York’s surging homeless crisis. However, the road to this moment has not been an easy one.
Although the mayor has repeatedly pledged support for those struggling with homelessness, he has also faced staunch criticism for using the police department and the Department of Sanitation to conduct routine sweeps and removals of homeless encampments across the five boroughs, with many advocates calling the procedure cruel due to the current state of shelters. Yet that now has the possibility to change.
The crammed and often dangerous shelter system is cited as the primary cause for many people choosing the streets over safe havens. Now, with the stroke of a pen, Adams and Hochul say that these under-utilized hotels could provide the undomiciled with the safety and the security they need, sparking confidence that this moment could be a major turnaround for those living on the streets.
“Simply put, life has gotten harder and harsher and more costly, and the most expensive of all: housing… housing,” Governor Hochul said. “No longer will these rooms sit vacant, mocking people on the streets who are struggling to find a home.”
The legislation will target unused hotels and establishments believed to have a negative impact on the communities they are located within, such as lodgings known for accommodating frequent drug use. These buildings will be able to create permanent housing without forcing the government to construct new residences, instead allowing them to utilize what is already available.
“Take these older buildings and now utilize them to give someone a newer life, a life where they can feel they are receiving the housing they deserve,” the mayor said. “It’s a win for taxpayers. It’s a win for the industry. And it’s a win for everyday New Yorkers who are looking for housing. This bill would do more than build apartments. It will transform lives.”
Homeless survivor turned advocate Shams DaBaron also joined the city and state leaders as the bill was signed. Being handed one of the pens used to sign the legislation, DaBaron admitted that it was a moving moment for him.
“The reality is that not too long ago, I slept on a park bench. Not too long ago, I slept in shelters. I slept on the subways and in the streets, so to actually be a part of addressing the issues that negatively impact me, as it does so many other people, and to be amongst a mayor that’s committed to making changes for the betterment of homeless people, it’s healing for me,” DaBaron said.
The new law signed into effect authorizes Class B hotels located within 400 feet of permit residential areas to continue operating but as permanent residential spaces. In Hochul’s State address, she announced a $25 billion, five-year Housing Plan that will create or preserve 100,000 affordable homes in urban and rural areas across New York including 10,000 homes with supportive services.