New York City

De Blasio to deploy ‘SWAT Teams’ to repair NYC’s squalid homeless shelters

Quick fix after years of neglect

May 12, 2015 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, right, listens to Acacia Network CEO Raul Russ, as he visits a room at the Corona Family Residence, a homeless facility in Queens. AP Photo/Richard Drew, Pool

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday that the city will deploy “SWAT Teams” to correct hundreds of building, fire and other code violations at homeless shelters. He made the announcement at the Corona Family Residence in Queens.

At the Corona Family Residence, children had been living in perilous conditions that include non-functioning smoke detectors, rodent infestations, broken ovens, electrical wiring issues and other problems.

“We worked with a provider to fix each and every one of those problems,” de Blasio said.

The mayor told reporters that the city would devote more than a hundred current workers from multiple agencies to inspect more than 500 buildings.

The new effort is officially dubbed the Shelter Repair Squad, and will be spearheaded by Deputy Mayors Anthony Shorris and Lilliam Barrios-Paoli.

De Blasio said the deteriorated conditions at many shelters are not new, but come after decades of neglect and underfunding from federal, state, and city governments. The program will be funded by $12.5 million through Fiscal Year 2016, with further funding for ongoing costs as needed.

De Blasio said the city is currently housing 56,000 people in homeless shelters, down 3,000 from several months ago. According to the Department of Homeless Services, 24,438 of these are children.

The announcement comes two months after the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI) released a report, commissioned by the mayor, about conditions at 25 city-run homeless shelters. DOI found a total of 621 violations, with 273 of those violations still outstanding when the report was published.

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‘Run down, filthy and riddled with rats’

De Blasio said it was a “damning report.”

While conditions throughout the city’s shelter system are often wretched, the report said the worst offenders were “cluster” buildings — privately owned residential buildings that house both private, rent-paying tenants and Department of Homeless Services (DHS) clients.  

DOI investigators observed these buildings to be “run down, filthy, and often riddled with rats, mice and/or roaches.” Moreover, security was non-existent, according to the report, which also described fire violations, exposed wiring, broken glass in windows and puddles of urine on the floor. Tenants complained to DOI about lack of maintenance, gang activity and shootings, unlocked doors, inconsistent electricity and lack of social services.

“Despite these violations, landlords continued to earn full rent for the apartments resulting in DHS paying two to three times market rate for housing families in these substandard facilities,” DOI said.

Other types of shelters include Tier II facilities, which provides housing and services to 10 or more homeless families, and hotels.

All but a handful of the violations at the 25 shelters listed in the report are now repaired or in process of being repaired, de Blasio said. Hundreds of shelters remain uninspected.

“The typical violations that we encounter can and will be fixed within seven days of being identified. That will be the most common category,” he said.

All major capital repairs will begin within 30 days and completed by the end of the year. Shelters that need additional assistance will be placed in a “streamlined corrective action process,” and will have their progress closely monitored by the city.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, in a statement, called the Shelter Repair Squad “a crucial interagency effort by Mayor de Blasio and his administration.”

Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez (D-Red Hook-Sunset Park-Williamsburg) applauded the effort, saying, “It is unacceptable that [shelters] have deteriorated to the current level.”

The mayor’s budget announced last Thursday includes $100 million in additional funding for anti-eviction legal services, for rent assistance, and other efforts to stop people from ending up in shelters to begin with.

“Mayor de Blasio’s administration deserves praise for moving thousands of homeless families into affordable homes and taking important steps to provide safe shelter for those who are still homeless,” said Mary Brosnahan, President and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless.

The SWAT teams will be composed of representatives of FDNY, the Buildings Department, Homeless Services, HPD, and the Department of Health.

DOI’s report listed numerous recommendations. For the full report, see: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2015/mar15/pr08dhs_31215.pdf

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