Beds for 15,000 people sit empty in NYC’s public, supportive housing systems amid migrant crisis: data

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NEW YORK — There are enough vacant apartments in the city’s public and supportive housing systems to accommodate 15,000 people, according to data shared with the New York Daily News by Brooklyn Councilman Lincoln Restler, who’s questioning why Mayor Eric Adams’ administration isn’t doing more to fill those units amid the continuing migrant crisis.

The agency-level data — which Restler also highlighted in a Monday letter to Adams and Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Maria Torres-Springer — shows the New York City Housing Authority had 3,932 empty units across its system as of the end of last month.

On the same date, the data shows more than 2,600 units sat vacant in the city’s supportive housing network, which is meant for homeless New Yorkers with a documented need for social services.

The empty units across the two systems combined could house roughly 15,000 New Yorkers currently living in homeless shelters, according to Restler.

Restler, a Democrat who co-chairs the Council’s Progressive Caucus and frequently criticizes Adams, said it doesn’t make sense that the mayor’s administration continues to open costly migrant shelters in unconventional settings like airport warehouses and school gyms at a time that the public and supportive housing systems are seeing such vacancies. Restler argued the administration should instead focus on moving homeless New Yorkers out of shelters and into the empty apartments, thereby creating capacity for migrants in the shelter system.

“The 3,900 vacant NYCHA units and over 2,600 empty supportive housing apartments could house 15,000 New Yorkers currently stuck in the DHS shelter system, allowing 15,000 asylum seekers access to safe, suitable housing in DHS shelters,” Restler wrote to Adams and Torres-Springer, using an acronym for the Department of Homeless Services. “This solution doesn’t require any action from Albany or Washington, D.C. — it is fully within the control of the city.”

An Adams spokeswoman suggested Restler is wrong because the mayor’s administration has added thousands of new supportive housing units in the past year and “completed extensive environmental work in NYCHA apartments across the city” in accordance with a federal agreement. The spokeswoman also said there were already 275,000 families on a wait list for NYCHA apartments as of this past January.

“We’ve done this all while providing food, shelter, and clothing to tens of thousands of asylum seekers over the past year,” the spokeswoman, Kate Smart, said. “Instead of writing letters to those leading the response to this crisis, we’d encourage the councilmember to do more to join our calls for federal support on what is a federal issue. New York City is doing our part and more, now we need others to step up and be the leaders New Yorkers expect them to be.”

According to data from the Department of Homeless Services, there are more than 80,000 people in the city’s traditional shelter system, about half of whom are asylum seekers, mostly from Latin America. There are believed to be another nearly 20,000 migrants living in an emergency shelter system set up by Adams’ administration, and hundreds more arrive every week, data from the mayor’s office shows.

In his letter, Restler pointed to a slowdown under Adams in the time it takes the city to fill vacant NYCHA apartments.

Citing agency data, Restler wrote it now takes NYCHA an average of 258 days to fill a vacant public housing apartment — nearly double the 131 days it used to take at the outset of Adams’ administration in January 2022. That has resulted in a staggering 700% increase in the number of vacant NYCHA apartments — from 486 at the beginning of Adams’ term to the current 3,932, according to the data.

On the supportive housing front, Restler highlighted a backlog of applications as a source of concern.

According to the data he shared with The News, the number of vacancies across the supportive housing system has not dipped below 2,000 since Adams took office. At the same time, there have consistently been more than 7,000 individuals seeking placement in supportive housing units throughout Adams’ term, per the data.

The News first reported last month that there were 2,646 empty supportive housing units in the city as of March 31. The data provided by Restler indicates that number has stayed effectively flat.

The Brooklyn politician blamed the slow move-in pace on a lack of funding for NYCHA’s vacant unit readiness program and the Human Resources Administration, which oversees the supportive housing program. He urged the mayor to earmark at least $160 million for the NYCHA readiness program in next fiscal year’s budget, which is due July 1.

“This is an issue of management and political will,” he said. “If prioritized, we can guarantee dignified shelter to asylum seekers and get New Yorkers into permanently affordable housing.”