The vacancy rate in New York City-funded apartments meant for homeless people has been cut nearly in half since Mayor Adams pledged about four months ago to overhaul the bureaucracy that was hampering his administration from filling the units, his top housing adviser said Friday.
In mid-March, it came to light that there were 2,500 vacancies in the city’s so-called supportive housing system — a statistic Adams promised at the time to rapidly improve and one that he said was the result of “dysfunctionality.”
In testimony before the City Council on Friday morning, Jessica Katz, Adams’ chief housing officer, said that about 1,000 of those units have since been filled.
“That represents a significant amount of effort across the administration,” she told Council members.
That leaves about 1,500 remaining vacancies in the supportive housing stock, which is funded by taxpayer dollars and reserved for people who are chronically homeless and suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services said the city is required to keep a portion of its total 27,000 supportive housing units indefinitely empty for emergency purposes, meaning that some of the remaining vacancies aren’t supposed to be filled.
“Additionally, DSS is investing and expanding staff capacity to cut through bureaucratic red tape and speed the housing process along for our clients,” said the spokeswoman, Julia Savel. “We are continuing to work with our interagency partners, providers, and advocates to ensure high quality supportive housing for our clients.”
Some homeless advocates said the city still isn’t working fast enough to get people into supportive housing.
“It’s definitely too slow,” said Judith Goldiner, the attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society’s Civil Law Reform Unit, who testified at Friday’s Council hearing after Katz. “Think about how bad that is. We have another 1,500 units that are just not filled, and tens of thousands of people in shelters on the streets and in shelters every night. What’s the holdup?”
In order to be placed in supportive housing, applicants must provide a range of documentation, including proof that they are chronically homeless, said Jacquelyn Simone, policy director at the Coalition for the Homeless.
The city typically also interviews three candidates at a time for any given single supportive housing unit vacancy, which Simone said creates scheduling headaches.
With that in mind, Simone was encouraged by the administration’s actions on supportive housing vacancies. “I’m glad that they’ve made at least some progress,” she said.
But Simone also argued more must be done, especially since Adams’ administration continues to execute its controversial crackdowns on street homeless encampments, which critics have called inhumane.
“We do encourage them to go further, and work to make sure there are no supportive units sitting needlessly empty, especially at this time of extremely high need,” she said.