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City-funded housing now required to include apartments for the homeless

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The bill is expected to create 1,000 new apartments for the homeless per year

Jeenah Moon/Getty Images

New residential buildings receiving financial assistance from the city will have to set aside at least 15 percent of their units for the homeless under a bill passed by the City Council Thursday.

The legislation, which was introduced in 2018 by Bronx Councilmember Rafael Salamanca, applies to rental buildings with more than 40 units, and is anticipated to create 1,000 new apartments for the homeless per year. The bill’s passage comes as New York City grapples with historic levels of homelessness, which federal data puts at nearly 80,000 people. The provision will take effect July 2020.

“This is a revolutionary change in policy that is both necessary, right, and urgent,” Council Speaker Corey Johnson said during Thursday’s vote.

Mayor Bill de Blasio initially objected to the bill, raising concerns about whether it would make some housing projects infeasible, but agreed to support the measure last week after revisions were made narrowing the scope of projects that apply. The mayor has faced mounting criticism that his housing plan to build or preserve 300,000 affordable units by 2026 doesn’t do enough to help homeless New Yorkers transition into permeant housing.

Other cities already have similar requirements in place; Boston, for example, mandates city-funded projects set aside at least 10 percent of those apartments for the homeless. The New York City provision will be key in combating homelessness across the five boroughs, say advocates.

“At its core, it legislates that government must serve the needs of the people,” said Nathylin Flowers Adesegun, a homeless advocate with grassroots group Vocal-NY, whose confrontation with Mayor Bill de Blasio on housing for the homeless at the Park Slope YMCA went viral last year. “This victory is historic and will change the lives of thousands.”

Costs associated with the bill are still being ironed out. Johnson and Salamanca noted that city subsidies will increase for projects the law applies to, saying that additional funds will differ “project by project.”

Salamanca has already negotiated these set asides in housing projects rising in his district, securing 121 apartments for the homeless. He said Thursday that a citywide approach is key to making a meaningful dent in supplying permanent homes for New Yorkers in need.

“The city needs policy with teeth,” said Salamanca. “And if we were truly going to address the citywide issue, it was critical that every borough and every community did their part.”

Earlier this week de Blasio unveiled a plan to “end street homelessness as we know it” within five years by creating 1,000 new permanent apartments and 1,000 additional “Safe Haven” shelter beds. Johnson called the plan an important step but said a focus on permanent, affordable housing will truly address the root of the problem.

“I think the mayor’s plan is good on Safe Haven, but we need to see more permanent, supportive housing built in New York City,” said Johnson in advance of Thursday’s vote. “That is the only thing that’s going to turn the tide here.”