NYC Mayor Increases Policing of Homelessness on the Subway
At a joint press conference last Friday, NYC Mayor Eric Adams and N.Y. Governor Kathy Hochul unveiled a set of measures meant to reduce violence on the city’s subway system. The ”Subway Safety Plan” increases outreach teams, including behavioral health clinicians, on the public transit. They will be joined by 1,000 additional NYPD officers who have a mandate to remove people “lying down, sleeping, or outstretching in a way that takes up more than one seat per passenger or interferes with fellow passengers,” as well as anyone spitting, littering and, most vaguely, “using the subway system for any purpose other than transportation.”
Advocates for people experiencing homelessness quickly denounced the plan, pointing out that the subway is used as respite from the cold and an alternative to dangerous shelters. “Forcing people off the trains into the freezing cold does not help the homeless,” an advocate from the Safety Net Project tweeted. “Aggressive NYPD targeting of homeless New Yorkers does not solve homelessness — it just moves it,” Josh Dean, executive director of Human.NYC told Gothamist. The mayor’s plan does have some helpful measures, including an increase in “Safe Haven” beds, a less restrictive alternative to homeless shelters.
The plan is a response to high-profile incidents on the subway, particularly the murder of Michelle Go by a man who was unhoused and experiencing ongoing mental health problems.
Mayor Adams has sent mixed messages with his preliminary budget, which cuts $615 million from the Department of Homeless Services, according to City Limits. While $500 million of that funding was from elapsed federal pandemic relief, the rest is part of a 3% across the board cut to nearly all city agencies. The mayor and the city council will continue to negotiate the budget until July 1, but beginning those negotiations with cuts does not bode well for the city’s crumbling shelter system.
San Francisco Tenants Are Close to Having Collective Bargaining Rights
Tenants in San Francisco could soon be permitted to form collective bargaining entities — much like labor unions — to negotiate debt, rent increases and building maintenance with landlords. The Board of Supervisors voted on Feb. 15 to approve the measure, according to the San Francisco Public Press. The board must vote yes a second time for the bill to become law. Landlords would be required to negotiate “in good faith” with tenant associations. The bill prohibits landlords from interfering with tenant organizing, whether by residents of the building or from visitors. The protections would cover private buildings with five or more units, and 50% of a building’s units would need to sign on for a newly formed tenant association to be recognized. It would be the first city legislation in the country granting collective bargaining rights to tenants in privately owned residential buildings. Residents of federal public housing have had the right to organize since 2002.
Sacramento County to Close Project Roomkey Motels
Sacramento County announced it will no longer be housing 333 people in motels using a statewide program, according to the Sacramento Bee. Project Roomkey was introduced by Governor Gavin Newsom early in the pandemic to reduce COVID transmission at homeless shelters, by placing people experiencing homelessness in individual motel rooms. Newsom later announced that he would replace Project Roomkey with Project Homekey, which converts unused motels and hotels into permanent affordable housing. But Sacramento County is paying $1.5 million a month for Project Roomkey, according to the Sacramento Bee, and cited both the costs and reduced COVID positivity rates as reasons for ending it. The Bee reports that COVID positivity is still four times higher than it was in December, according to the county’s data, and that the county recently received $300 million in federal COVID recovery funding, “39% of which was supposedly set aside for housing and homelessness services.”
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Roshan Abraham is Next City's housing correspondent and a former Equitable Cities fellow. He is based in Queens. Follow him on Twitter at @roshantone.