City to End Use of ‘Cluster’ Homeless Shelter Units

The city will end its use of private apartments, known as "clusters," to house the homeless.

HRA Commissioner Steven Banks (Photo: Will Bredderman).
HRA Commissioner Steven Banks (Photo: Will Bredderman). (Photo: Will Bredderman for Observer)

As part of the de Blasio administration’s effort to overhaul the city’s homelessness services, Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks today announced that the city will end its use of private apartments, known as “clusters,” to house the homeless.

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“We are taking this initiative in order to end the use of this program, which resulted in substantial sums being paid for apartments—many that were in substandard conditions,” Mr. Banks said today at a City Hall press conference.

The city will phase out the use of clusters over three years, Mr. Banks said, with a goal of turning many of those apartments—which the city pays above-market rent to use as cluster shelters—into low-rent housing. The city was spending $125 million for the 3,000 units every year, but will either convert them to permanent housing—where the residents would pay the rent, possibly with rental assistance programs—or move the families to another shelter by December 31, 2018.

Mr. Banks outlined a four-pronged strategy for the phase-out: initiating enforcement actions against owners of buildings with chronic building code infractions—and withholding rent if they aren’t fixed; working with responsible owners to return the cluster apartments to market rent so that families could remain as tenants; revising the Department of Homeless Services open-ended request for proposals for shelters to look for models that include permanent housing, transitional housing and community space; and deploying a “rapid rehousing team” to promote move-outs from family shelters and decrease the need for cluster units.

A Department of Investigation report last year found the cluster apartments to be among the worst maintained homeless shelter space in the city.

“The cluster homeless shelter system is broken and represents the worst combination of expensive housing, bad conditions and poor access to services that homeless families need,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “Importantly, cluster shelters take badly needed low-rent apartments off the market. Now we have a solid, practical program for ending the use of clusters, returning apartments to the market and providing new shelters that are attractive for both residents and the communities in which they are located.”

Mr. de Blasio has been increasingly focused on the problem of homelessness in the city—as has Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who this weekend released an executive order aimed at housing the homeless during cold days, something city officials say they already do.

Mr. Banks is presently leading the Department of Homeless Services and a city review of its homelessness services, after the departure of former DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor.

City to End Use of ‘Cluster’ Homeless Shelter Units