New rule and pilot program strive to ensure placements in safe and appropriate housing

City Hall – City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was joined today in the Red Room of City Hall by Homeless Services Commissioner Robert V. Hess, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, council members and homeless advocates to announce a rule and a pilot program, developed jointly by the Speaker’s Office and Homeless Services. The rule and pilot will operate in shelters to help ensure that homeless adults are placed in safe and appropriate permanent housing when leaving temporary, emergency shelters.

“I thank DHS for working closely with the Council to ensure that homeless New Yorkers leaving shelters are safely housed,” Speaker Christine C. Quinn said. “Too many homeless adults have left shelters just to end up in illegally overcrowded and unsafe housing, often requiring their return to shelter — not only is this unacceptable, but it’s also a huge step backward. Today we’re taking a step forward with the launch of this new rule and pilot program, which will bring us closer to fulfilling our responsibility to make sure that every homeless New Yorker has safe and suitable housing that they can actually call a home.”

The new measures are intended to reinforce guidance to directly operated shelters and not-for-profit shelter providers on making referrals to suitable housing. Under the rule, Homeless Services and its providers will be able to avoid referring clients to housing that an inspector has determined is unsafe or inappropriate by using the results of inspections by the Department of Buildings, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and the Fire Department.

“The rule will help providers assist clients in making good housing choices by using data from the Department of Buildings, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and the Fire Department to avoid referrals to housing that is potentially unsafe,” said Homeless Services Commissioner Robert V. Hess. “We are pleased to have worked with the Speaker to launch this program that will provide feedback to help ensure homeless New Yorkers are protected.”

The Office of the Speaker and Homeless Services have also developed a pilot program, which will be conducted in nine shelters. Under the pilot, Homeless Services will instruct providers to refrain from making referrals to buildings that have registered complaints regarding occupancy violations, but have not been inspected by a City agency because the inspector was unable to access the premises.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has long been a supporter of preventing referrals of homeless New Yorkers to substandard and overcrowded housing. As a member of the City Council and Chair of the General Welfare Committee, de Blasio held oversight hearings to examine DHS’ housing referral and placement practices. He also introduced legislation which would prohibit referrals of homeless adults to illegal and overcrowded facilities.

“We all have a responsibility to prevent homeless New Yorkers from ending up in dangerous and dilapidated housing,” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said. “I commend and thank the Department of Homeless Services and Speaker Quinn for working together to create a more comprehensive system to prevent the homeless from being referred to overcrowded housing. I hope going forward we can continue to work together to improve living conditions for our City’s most vulnerable populations.”

“I thank the Speaker, Commissioner Hess, and the Public Advocate for their efforts to combat this serious issue,” General Welfare Committee Chair Annabel Palma said. “This new pilot program will assist shelter providers in making appropriate referrals, will help inform homeless adults about safe housing and will make a life-changing difference in the lives of homeless New Yorkers.”

For the purposes of the pilot, Homeless Services will focus on buildings with five or fewer units, as these buildings are least regulated and most at risk of dangerous conditions due to illegal conversion. Furthermore, providers in pilot shelters will assist clients with making complaints to the Department of Buildings should they return from viewing a unit that they believe violates the referral guidelines.

To help educate clients about safe housing, Homeless Services will also distribute a document to clients informing them about the new policy so that they are able to make informed choices about where they will live. In consultation with the City Council, Homeless Services will evaluate this 6-month pilot and its impact on housing placements from the shelter system, and will then decide how to implement a system-wide process to help ensure that adults leave shelter to safe and appropriate permanent housing.

“In these tough economic times, it is important to protect those that are most vulnerable. I am proud to stand with my fellow elected officials in support of this pilot program, which will work to ensure that New Yorkers in shelters move into safe and appropriate housing,” Councilmember Stephen Levin said. “As an affordable housing advocate, I know how important the referral process is, and a program that will improve the quality of referrals for the homeless is essential. I want to applaud Speaker Quinn, Councilmember Palma, Commissioner Hess, and Public Advocate de Blasio for partnering together to create this crucial program.”

“This new initiative is an important step in protecting individuals who are most at risk for being taken advantage of by unscrupulous landlords. Too often, homeless individuals leave the shelter system and wind up in a situation that is much worse than their previous circumstances. This new rule and pilot program will ensure that individuals transitioning out of the shelter system will have a safe, secure and hopefully permanent place to live,” Councilmember Julissa Ferreras said.

“I am pleased that our most vulnerable New Yorkers will not be herded into dangerous, illegal boarding houses by a system that is our last safety net during this time of economic crisis,” Councilmember Brad Lander said.

“It is in difficult times that our commitment to those in need is truly tested. New Yorkers have reason to be proud of the work done by the Speakers Office and DHS in creating a program that protects the safety and dignity of homeless individuals,” Councilmember Diana Reyna said.

“Homeless New Yorkers need access to safe and lawful permanent housing,” said Steven Banks, the Attorney-in-Chief of the Legal Aid Society. “Today’s agreement is an important initiative to make sure the homeless New Yorkers are relocated from emergency housing to appropriate permanent housing and that taxpayers do not pay for substandard housing. On behalf of our clients, we commend the Speaker and the Department of Homeless Services for taking this important step forward.”

“The new regulation and pilot program are a significant step in the right direction to ensure that homeless adults are referred to safe and adequate permanent housing instead of to illegal dwellings,” said Patrick Markee, Senior Policy Analyst, Coalition for the Homeless. “These new rules will put into place stronger protections for homeless New Yorkers, reducing the probability that they will return to shelter and facilitating the move to long-term independent living. We are very grateful to New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and her staff for their hard work crafting these long overdue safeguards.”