Turn Empty N.Y.C. Hotels Into Permanent Housing for Homeless, Adams Says
Hotels in New York City that have been left empty by the pandemic would be converted into “supportive housing” that provides assistance to people struggling with mental illness or substance abuse and to people leaving the prison system, under a plan proposed on Monday by Eric Adams, who is likely to be the city’s next mayor.
More than 20 percent of the city’s hotels are now closed, a trade association says. At the same time, the city faces a homelessness crisis, growing sentiment against warehousing homeless people in barrackslike shelters and a lot of severely mentally ill people living in the streets.
“The combination of Covid-19, the economic downturn and the problems we’re having with housing is presenting us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Mr. Adams, who won the June Democratic primary for mayor, said as he stood outside a boarded-up hotel in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. “Use these hotels not to be an eyesore, but a place where people can lay their eyes on good, affordable, quality housing.”
Details of the plan were thin. Mr. Adams mentioned the possibility of 25,000 converted hotel rooms, but he said that he would focus on boroughs outside Manhattan, where the number of rooms in closed hotels is much smaller than that.
He was not clear about whether there was any overlap between his plan and those that the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, and the former governor of New York, Andrew M. Cuomo, have already begun to build 25,000 supportive housing units in the city by about 2030. A spokesman for Mr. Adams’s campaign said that Mr. Adams was also considering converting rooms in former hotels that have already become homeless shelters into permanent supportive-housing apartments, something that Mr. de Blasio has also discussed.
Mr. Adams said that creating studio apartments in existing hotels would be far cheaper and faster than building affordable housing from scratch.
During the mayoral primary, he was one of several candidates who called for creating housing in updated versions of single room occupancy hotels, or S.R.O.s, a form of housing once synonymous with seediness and crime that were torn down en masse in the late 20th century, but that has been making a comeback in other cities.
“I’m a big ‘modernized S.R.O.’ person,” Mr. Adams said. “We can create safe spaces particularly for single adults, which is an increased population.”
The nexus of hotels and homelessness has been a contested one during the pandemic. Early in the lockdown imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus, thousands of people who had been living in dorm-style shelters were moved to hotel rooms, mostly in Manhattan where their presence led to complaints from some residents about harassment and sometimes violence. The city has since moved most of those people back to group shelters.
Several advocates for homeless people and for supportive housing endorsed Mr. Adams’s plan and stood with him at the news conference. “Adams can be the mayor who uses this inflection moment to change the trajectory on homelessness,” Laura Mascuch, executive director of the Supportive Housing Network of New York, said in an interview. “We look forward to working with Adams to implement the strongest supportive housing program in the nation.”
Another advocate who Mr. Adams invited to speak was the formerly homeless man who goes by the name Shams Da Baron and who came to prominence last year as a de facto spokesman for the homeless people who were being put up in a Manhattan hotel. In New York’s primary, Mr. Da Baron had favored more progressive candidates over Mr. Adams, a former police captain. But on Monday he offered the candidate a warm hug and exhorted him to follow through on his plan.
“We are in crisis,” Mr. Da Baron said. “Do what is necessary to get people housed.”