Councilman wants increase of city-supported housing for homeless

Rafael Salamanca Jr. said current efforts are falling short.

Bronx City Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr. is preparing to introduce legislation that would compel the city to reserve 15 precent of city-subsidized housing for homeless New Yorkers.

The move comes four years into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan, which has yielded thousands of units and allowed the city to place 1,400 once-homeless households into some of them, the administration said.

But Salamanca said New York needs to improve that record.

“We in the Council have to do our part, in helping [the Department of Homeless Services] find housing for these individuals,” he said. “Every development that’s getting city tax dollars or any city subsidies — we should mandate that there’s a 15 percent homeless [allotment] set aside.”

Currently, nearly all the programs of the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development for creating or preserving affordable homes have rules requiring that at least 10 percent of the units are reserved for the homeless.

But Salamanca said the rules are sometimes cast aside when he and peers negotiate projects in their districts. He said legislating the requirement would ensure it has teeth.

“It has not been followed completely in its entirety,” Salamanca said, noting that lawmakers often want to maximize the number of non-set-aside units because local residents are typically given preference when applying for half of them. “Council members know it’s just a rule and they can hold the project back until they get what they ask for.”

An HPD representative said the department honors agreements that were negotiated before the current 10 percent threshold, which was phased in by May 2017, and works aggressively to enforce related rules.

Salamanca said he settled on the 15 percent goal because he thought 10 percent was not enough, but more than 15 percent could make it difficult to get the support of his fellow council members.

Picture the Homeless, a nonprofit founded and led by homeless people, has spent years pushing the city to create permanent homes, rather than relying on shelters. The organization said it supported Salamanca’s idea, and wanted to make sure that additional units set aside for homeless New Yorkers did not come at the expense of those reserved for people making up to 30 percent of the metro area’s median income.

“There’s so many low-income earners in shelters that can’t find housing because it’s too expensive for them,” said Picture the Homeless member Jermain Abdullah. “This will fill some of that void, and make it easier to transition right into their own apartment.

“If the referrals are happening through the shelter, it’s easier to get into housing, instead of going through all the hurdles with brokers’ fees, credit checks, first and last month’s rent, and other requirements,” he added.

The city has financed 89,092 units of below market-rate housing, according to data released at the end of March. More than 7,500 of those were specifically set aside for the roughly 59,000 people in shelters or otherwise without a permanent home, according to city data.

The HPD is committed to finding more housing for homeless New Yorkers and will review the legislation which it has not yet seen, said HPD spokesman Matthew Creegan.

“Under the Mayor’s housing plan, we have financed over 7,500 homes for formerly homeless households, but our work doesn’t end there when it comes to creating a more equitable New York for all,” he said. “We are committed to pushing forward on a multi-pronged strategy to address the homelessness crisis in our city, and will continue to work in tandem with our sister agencies, local elected officials, and community partners to achieve this goal.”

Sarina Trangle