From Empty Property to Empty Promises: Eric Adams’ Supportive Housing Proposal Is Flawed

Eric Adams attempts to seize vacant hotel space for a supportive housing proposal aimed to humanely shelter much of the city’s homeless. But will it work?

The+Lucerne%2C+a+hotel+that+has+sparked+controversy+as+of+late%2C+as+it+tried+to+shelter+homeless+people+humanely.

Yasmine Salha

The Lucerne, a hotel that has sparked controversy as of late, as it tried to shelter homeless people humanely.

In his years of hopping shelters, subway cars, park benches, no place brought more hope to Shams DaBaron than what lay in front of him: space.

In particular, a hotel building. Empty and laden with boards, it towered over him. In this moment, he was consumed by a promise. A promise for change, and a promise Eric Adams plans to honor.

Now as New York City mayor as of January 1st, 2022, Adams has devised a big plan. He hopes to knock out three of the city’s most dominant plagues – homelessness, gentrification, and a dying hospitality industry – all in one go.

The issues tie together quite simply; hotel rooms, now neglected by a COVID-ravaged tourism industry, will be converted into supportive housing units for the city’s homeless and lower income earners. This would build a rejuvenated and more livable environment for those less privileged to afford housing, especially under increasing cases of gentrification. Communities can actively reshape and diversify in the process.

The ambitious plan would require immense support from city officials, as well as the city’s residents. But currently, neither is sufficient, meaning that the plan may fall short of its promise.

A key problem to address is the city’s systemic high standards for housing. Though wealth and progress flows through New York City’s streets, it fails to do so equitably. Blindly, the city makes legislative upgrades to the requirements of a livable home. These are expensive, and often residents cannot keep up, leading to many losing their homes in the process. Noah Kazis, a legal fellow at New York University and expert on hotel-to-housing renovations, said, “We lost a tier of housing, just sort of regulated it out of existence.” The rich move in, they gentrify, they kick out locals with new expenses. Now the displaced need homes and the price is too high. The electrifying hotel space that DaBaron had once laid eyes on, even imagined himself in, needs an additional $300-500 thousand before it is considered fully ready. And that’s per unit.

This cost introduces a serious issue in the proposal, especially when the Adams campaign announced a 25,000 unit target. They would be committing the city to a multibillion dollar project, with money they currently do not have at their disposal. As a result, their promise is effectively baseless. Realistically, of the 160 available hotels targeted, City Limits predicts a mere fraction will be able to undergo conversion, cheaper properties concentrated in the boroughs outside Manhattan. 

After expenses due to gentrification, the act of desegregating communities presents a second major flaw. Despite Adams’ ardent optimism in the public approval of the plan, history does not take his side. This past summer, The Lucerne Hotel came under fire as the city moved 280 COVID-19 infected homeless men into temporary lodging in its vacant units. The operation hoped to contain the virus in a shelter-like setup within the hotel, which was closed for commercial use. The Lucerne was located in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, an affluent and mostly Caucasian neighborhood, as measured by the NYU Furman Center. When given the opportunity to desegregate, the community chose to revolt. According to Nicole Gelinas of The New York Post, residents viewed the plan as “using sick, poor people as warm bodies to bail out the downmarket hotel industry.” She claimed locals feared for their safety. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised by community members, who were eventually able to close the operation. In the end, the homeless men had a bitter departure. They made their return to shelters far more unsafe than the Lucerne. 

If the Lucerne was the trial run for the Adams plan, it would appear to have been wildly unsuccessful. DaBaron, who happened to be one of the 280, thinks differently.

“Just having coffee and talking and learning about people was opening me up and seeing that, wait a minute, this works… it was a total difference than when we first got there and what normally takes place in the shelter,” said DaBaron. The Lucerne was unique only in that it offered to its inhabitants mental health resources and privacy; it supplied the homeless with dignity. But with these small acts, DaBaron saw a broken community prosper. 

But here lies the root of the Adams’ plan’s flaws, as no one wants to put in the small acts needed to make the plan successful. The city has proven itself unready to commit neither funding nor public support sufficient enough to sustain change. They commit only to the concept, not the process. Adams’ plan is on course to repeat the tragic legacy of all past homeless policies, remaining an empty promise.

An example can be taken from Callahan Law. Resulting from a 1981 class-action lawsuit, this law enshrines a right to shelter for all New York City residents. However, it fails to establish a high bar. A bed, a locker, a roof, and a staffing ratio of 1:50 is all it enforces. No treatment is required for those suffering from mental illness, nor substance use disorders. Many of today’s shelters follow this bare minimum, and with the trauma that often accompanies homelessness, these issues are allowed to run rampant.

“I went into the streets, because I was deteriorating mentally, physically, and emotionally while in the shelter. So I felt more safe and more whole, believe it or not, on a park bench,” DaBaron said.

In the case of these shelters, the city promised to provide a livable standard of housing for all those experiencing homelessness. But a lack of foresight caused the provisions to challenge most definitions of livable, especially when most occupants continue to fear for their lives on a daily basis. The environment is broken, and with that, the promise. It is emptied of its potential. 

Homeless policy, up until now, has consisted only of fluff, promising ideas with heedless execution.

Eric Adams’ approach to the city’s homelessness crisis must not follow this same path. The potential it has, which to homeless New Yorkers is enormous, cannot be allowed to go to waste. With a proper budget, sufficient mental health resources, and a maintained commitment by the city, it can be achieved. A humane method of shelter can be created, re-infusing a sense of community into the homeless experience. A narrative can be rewritten on what it means to be homeless, easing the polarization of chronic poverty, and normalizing diversity. Money, jobs, and real estate can be revived from a costly pandemic. Most importantly, New Yorkers without homes can repave their path to success, and rediscover comfort. But for all this to change, Adams’ plan must also change. His promise must not be empty.

“Just having coffee and talking and learning about people was opening me up and seeing that, wait a minute, this works… it was a total difference than when we first got there and what normally takes place in the shelter,” said Shams DaBaron.

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