Lucerne 1 Year Later: Lawmakers + Advocates Demand Mayor + Governor Stop Transfers; House Homeless NYers
Da Homeless Hero, PA Jumaane Williams, Manhattan DA Dem Nominee Alvin Bragg, Sen Brian Kavanagh, Sen José Serrano, CM Steve Levin, and Legal Aid call on city to stop inhumane transfers and immediately implement Intro 146 to provide housing instead
NEW YORK, NY (07/26/2021) (readMedia)-- This morning, during #JulyHomelessRights Month, Shams DaBaron aka "Da Homeless Hero" gathered with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and city and state legislators on the one-year anniversary of the Lucerne Hotel becoming a temporary homeless shelter. Now, a year after the Lucerne became a flashpoint in city politics, the city is recklessly transferring homeless New Yorkers out of temporary hotel shelters and back to dangerous, overcrowded congregate shelters. Covid cases in New York City have risen 250% since June 22.
The group of elected officials and advocates are calling on Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to immediately implement legislation that could create a pathway to housing for homeless New Yorkers, and listen to the medical professionals calling for an immediate halt to the reckless and dangerous transfers.
Legislators and activists demanded:
- Stop the transfers: The city is restarting transfers today from temporary hotel shelters back to congregate shelters, after a pause won by a Legal Aid lawsuit, despite a surging Delta variant. In congregate shelters, people sleep up to 50 to a room in beds three feet apart. Social distancing is impossible, and the city has only vaccinated 21.5% of adult shelter residents. These urgent concerns were expressed in two recent letters to Mayor de Blasio: one by Democratic Manhattan Borough President Nominee and Council Health Committee Chairman, Mark Levine, and another by a group of physicians including former NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot.
- Implement Intro 146 immediately: Sponsored by councilmember Steve Levin and passed by the City Council in May, Into 146 offers one possible solution to the homelessness crisis. Once implemented, it will increase CityFHEPS vouchers to cover the fair market rate, like the more effective Section 8 program. It will make thousands more apartments accessible to shelter residents, with eligible beneficiaries paying 30% of their income toward housing. Mayor de Blasio has refused to expedite implementation of the bill, despite specific language allowing him to do so.
- Gov. Cuomo sign state FHEPS bill: Similar to Intro 146, this bill sponsored by Senator Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal would raise state FHEPS vouchers to cover the fair market rate. The bill has been passed by the legislature, but has not been signed by Cuomo, so is not yet law.
Over the last year, the events surrounding the Lucerne Hotel temporary shelter highlighted the devastating realities of New York City's homelessness crisis, and led to a new wave of activism spear-headed by New Yorkers directly impacted by homelessness, such as Shams DaBaron aka "the Homeless Hero."
On Saturday, DaBaron and #JulyHomelessRights activists, including hotel shelter residents set to be transferred, met with members of the de Blasio administration. Before the events of the past year, a meeting like this between city officials and homeless New Yorkers would have been unprecedented. De Blasio officials, including city # 2, first Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan, agreed to the meeting after a sleep-out action on Thursday night. Current hotel residents expressed their fear for their lives, noting masks cannot be worn 24/7 in congregate shelters, and that many died of COVID during the first wave. Additionally, Dr. Kelly Doran joined to share information on COVID outbreaks happening in congregate homeless shelters all across the country. Despite this, the city is still planning to transfer people, starting today.
"Living at the Lucerne Hotel drastically changed my life. The organizing work I did with my fellow residents at the Lucerne has given a new voice to how we understand the housing crisis in the City. We speak for ourselves now, and we demand the Mayor stop the transfers, which will literally kill people, and work with us to build real solutions to end homelessness now!" said Shams DaBaron aka "Da Homeless Hero," former Lucerne Hotel resident, homeless rights activist, and finalist for the David Prize for his advocacy on behalf of homeless New Yorkers.
"One year ago, unhoused New Yorkers were moved from congregate shelters to the Lucerne and other hotels because of the dangers the virus presented. Now as variants still circulate and vaccination rates remain stubbornly stagnant, it's vital to ensure the health and safety of homeless New Yorkers - which hotel spaces are largely protecting and which congregate shelters largely cannot. The administration's commitment to uprooting and shuffling shelter residents around the city, including defending those practices in court, undercuts its stated commitment to progress on these issues. The city must rapidly implement Intro 146 to provide access to permanent housing, and state and federal governments must follow with actions to combat the housing and homelessness crisis in the long term," said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
"Mayor de Blasio and governor Cuomo are both sitting on legislation that could get homeless New Yorkers into housing, while recklessly sending people to their deaths. Six weeks ago I thought these transfers were a terrible idea; today, with COVID numbers as they are, it's criminal. Our city and state officials had their heads in the sand about the COVID situation before, and we lost thousands of fellow New Yorkers. We need our leaders to wake up and save lives by keeping our homeless neighbors safe in hotels while we implement legislation that can get them a pathway to housing instead," said Corinne Low, co-founder of UWS Open Hearts Initiative.
"The pandemic has exposed the many ways our city leaves so many behind. It is clear that returning to the same ways of doing things is a mistake. And yet, that is exactly what the Mayor is doing by removing people from the safety and stability of hotel rooms and forcing them back to shelters. With vaccination rates among the most vulnerable still at dangerously low levels (DHS estimates at around an unacceptable 30%) and the Delta variant on the rise in New York City, it is both a moral and a public health imperative that we do everything we can to avoid returning people to crowded shelters.
The stakes are high and now is not the time to rush a return to shelters. We need to immediately activate Intro. 146, converting hotels into permanent housing, and provide reasonable accommodations to everyone who qualifies. We can also use the thousands of Section 8 vouchers allocated to NYC via the American Recovery Plan, prioritize homeless residents for vacant HPD apartments, and expedite all supportive housing placements currently in process.
I urge the Mayor to follow the science and halt the transfers. We can and must implement the city and state FHEPS voucher bills now," said Council Member Stephen Levin.
"New Yorkers living in temporary shelter need affordable, permanent housing - not a revolving door of temporary beds. The obvious and humane solution here is to allow people to stay in hotels until they can move into a home. The City should immediately implement Intro 146 so people can find apartments and we also encourage Governor Cuomo to immediately sign legislation to increase FHEPS levels to prevent additional unnecessary entries into shelters," said Joshua Goldfein, attorney at Legal Aid.
"As we emerge from the COVID-19
pandemic we must recommit ourselves at all levels of government to ensuring that no New Yorker is denied the right to a secure, stable, affordable home," said State Senator Brian Kavanagh, who chairs the Senate Housing Committee. "This year, in addition to
the COVID-19 eviction and foreclosure moratorium and the $2.4 billion emergency rental assistance program, we allocated hundreds of millions of dollars in new capital expenditures for supportive and permanent housing. We also passed legislation to expand the
Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (FHEPS) program, to create new programs to convert hotels to permanent housing, and to provide transitional rental assistance for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness or facing eviction. We know we need to do more, including funding these initiatives at higher levels in next year's budget and enacting the Housing Access Voucher Program, which would provide State subsidies modeled on the federal Section 8 program. I'm proud to join colleagues in State, Federal, and City government who are ready to take on this challenge and all New Yorkers who have advocated for a comprehensive and humane response to the crisis of homelessness - especially today the residents of the Lucerne and the members of UWS Open Hearts whose
advocacy for the cause of inclusion and decency in their neighborhood has been inspiring," said Sen. Brian Kavanagh.
"The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the deep inequalities that exist in our society and underscored the urgent need to invest our city and state resources into ending homelessness and creating a path to permanent housing for those in need. During the 2021 legislative session, my colleagues and I fought to obtain funding for housing and homelessness prevention, including an increase in the value of FHEPS vouchers. Congregate shelters can be crowded and unsafe, especially as we continue to grapple with COVID-19 and the spread of the Delta variant. On the one-year anniversary of homeless New Yorkers arriving at the Lucerne, we reaffirm our commitment to a city that can provide for its residents' basic needs- and that includes permanent housing," said Sen. José Serrano.
While thousands of homeless New Yorkers had been moved into vacant hotels in order to slow the spread of Covid-19, New York city has been slow to implement solutions to ensure they could be offered housing instead of returning to shelters after a year in hotels. Many homeless New Yorkers wait for years to be given housing, and often simply have to find their own way out of the shelter system, despite the fact that offering subsidized housing costs the city 50% less than paying for shelter beds. In May, the City Council finally passed Intro 146, which could provide an immediate path to housing for homeless New Yorkers--but the city insists they need six months to implement it, which means a botched plan to return thousands of New Yorkers to congregate shelters with low vaccination rates and no safety guidelines in place. Once implemented, Intro 146 will increase CityFHEPS vouchers to cover the fair market rate, like the more effective Section 8 program, making thousands more apartments accessible to shelter residents, with eligible beneficiaries paying 30% of their income toward housing. The City can use emergency rule-making processes to implement this bill immediately, rather than waiting 6 months while homeless New Yorkers languish in shelters or return to the streets.
July Homeless Rights Month was the brainchild of directly impacted advocates Maria Walles and Shams DaBaron, and is being sponsored by a coalition of directly impacted New Yorkers and advocacy orgs, including Vocal-NY, UWS Open Hearts, Neighbors Together, SURJ-NY, JFREJ, Housing Works, and Human.NYC.