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NYC asks affordable housing developers to house more homeless New Yorkers

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Owners of city-funded buildings with income-targeted housing are being asked to set aside apartments for homeless New Yorkers

Max Touhey |

New York City will ask developers of nearly completed affordable housing projects to increase the number of apartments set aside for homeless New Yorkers, who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19, according to the city’s housing agency and a letter obtained by Curbed.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development requested on Friday that owners of city-funded buildings with income-targeted housing allocate up to 30 percent of those apartments for homeless people. While there will be no legal requirement that developers increase the number of soon-to-be-completed apartments allocated for people experiencing homelessness, HPD would use city rental voucher money to pay the rent for the formerly homeless and the regulatory agreements would remain unchanged, the agency said.

Formerly homeless tenants would be allowed to stay in their home for as long as they choose, the agency said. Once they move out, the apartments can subsequently be rented to a person with an income that was agreed upon under the original deal with the city, according to HPD.

”We must work together to solve the problems exacerbated by this unprecedented pandemic, which is why we’re asking our partners to do their part by making more homes available for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness,” said agency spokesperson Matthew Creegan.

The increased rental voucher money comes as the city announced last week that it would temporarily house 2,000 New Yorkers in hotel rooms to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, though advocates have fought for more. At least 27 homeless people, including at least 23 staying in shelters, have died of the coronavirus, officials said this week.

Currently, city-financed residential developments must have at least 15 percent of the apartments set aside for homeless New Yorkers, after a bill spearheaded by City Council member Rafael Salamanca passed last December.

On Friday, HPD Commissioner Louise Carroll sent a letter to Jolie Milstein, the head of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing, the trade group representing developers of affordable housing, that asked her members to go along with the homeless housing recommendation.

“In the face of this unprecedented crisis, we must all re-evaluate the work that we do with an eye to ensuring that our work is in the best interests of the people we serve,” Carroll wrote. “To that end, during this emergency, HPD is asking our partners to increase the share of apartments made available to homeless New Yorkers in City-financed affordable housing projects that are or will soon be in the marketing process.”

“This would be on top of the required set aside, up to 30 percent of the overall unit count, and would be a one-time preference that would not need to be maintained at re-rental,” she added.

Milstein said she would tell her group’s members to heed HPD’s calls.

“We’re encouraging our members to do everything they can to accommodate more homeless [people] in their buildings during this crisis,” she said. “We’re certainly supportive of the city’s efforts to accommodate the most vulnerable among us.”

Annie Carforo, campaign manager at Neighbors Together, said the new money policy that will go toward apartments that will be move-in ready in the coming months “sounds great” because homeless people often have trouble finding apartments their vouchers can pay for. But Carforo also warned that the city needs to do more to immediately get people out of unsafe living arrangements during the pandemic.

“This is a really good move in the right direction, but this public health crisis is happening right now, and for a lot of people who are in congregate shelters or on the street, this is a matter of life and death,” she said. “They are in imminent risk. We need the city to do everything in their power to house people now.”

Council member Carlina Rivera said the request and the buy-in from the affordable-housing developer trade group are “exactly what we need right now.”

“I think this is certainly good news,” she told Curbed Friday. ”This is the type of investment in people and families that we need. I’m glad that HPD is going to make sure more families get on a path to sustainable housing.”

Rivera said that in the coming weeks she will be looking to craft a Council bill that helps add homes dedicated to people experiencing homelessness.

“I’m hoping that we can continue talking to HPD,” she said, “and I will be working to introduce something that builds on the work that’s already been done.”