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City aims to combat homeless crisis by turning ‘cluster sites’ into affordable housing

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A new plan will involve purchasing cluster housing and converting them into affordable homes

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In an effort to combat the city’s growing homelessness crisis—more than 70,000 New Yorkers are now in the shelter system or on the street, and the problem is only getting worse—Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced plans to covert so-called “cluster housing” into affordable apartments.

By doing so, the De Blasio administration can achieve two goals: providing shelter to those in need, along with contributing to the city’s overall number of affordable housing units.

“This initiative will transform dozens of dilapidated temporary apartments into quality, permanently affordable homes,” De Blasio said in a statement. “The effort is a clear sign that we will go to any length necessary to help our neighbors get back on their feet.”

Here’s how it’ll work: The city will partner with “trusted locally-based not-for-profit developers” to create the affordable housing, using public funds to acquire sites it has identified as candidates for this transformation. If the owners of those sites do not comply, the city will seize their properties using eminent domain. The city and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will then work with the new owners to ensure those buildings are permanently affordable, and earmarked for the formerly homeless and low-income New Yorkers.

So far, the city says it has identified 25 to 30 buildings that qualify, with about 800 apartments between them—and per the city, “this group of properties will create over 1,100 permanent and affordable homes.”

Cluster sites, also known as scatter-site housing, are usually private apartments located within ill-maintained buildings that the city would rent out to house the homeless. The method is an expensive one and often times, property owners would turn to shady practices like price gouging as a way to make more money off of the city.

Per the New York Times, a report released two years ago by the Department of Investigation revealed that the city paid an average rent of $2,451/month for cluster apartments in low-income neighborhoods where the average rent for a typical apartment ranged from $528 to $1,200 a month. Some landlords even sought to drive out tenants so that they could convert more apartments into shelter units and collect higher rents from the city.

“We’re fast-tracking the transition from shelter to higher-quality, permanently affordable housing for New Yorkers caught in the grips of our city’s affordability crisis,” De Blasio said in a statement.

The plan could result in roughly 3,000 people being placed into permanent housing and in many cases, homeless families already living in the apartments would get to stay put but would no longer be considered homeless.