Housing in Brief: New York Makes It Easier to Convert Hotels Into Homeless Housing

Also: San Diego will give at-risk seniors $500 a month for housing and more.

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New York Legislature Revises Hotels To Housing Plan

Before he took office, NYC Mayor Eric Adams touted a plan to convert 25,000 units of vacant hotel rooms across the city into supportive housing, half of which would be prioritized for people experiencing homelessness. That plan, which was made possible through a state program called the Housing Our Neighbors With Dignity Act (HONDA), had significant roadblocks, as Next City reported last year. Among them were onerous zoning and building code restrictions that made it difficult to convert many of the hotels. As a result, the city had not received a single application for the program as of two months ago.

That may soon change. Governor Kathy Hochul has signed into law zoning reforms to address some of those concerns and accelerate the conversion of those hotels. The changes will allow conversions of hotels located in manufacturing zones, provided they are within 400 feet of a residential zone. They also remove a requirement to apply for a new certificate of occupancy upon conversation, a regulatory hurdle that can drag on for months.

But some are concerned the plan has missed its window of opportunity. Supportive housing providers had urged the city and state to initiate reforms last year when hotels remained vacant and unused due to the pandemic, but tourism has begun to rebound across NYC. According to City Limits, 83% of the city’s hotel rooms were filled as of May 20.

There are other obstacles: City Limits reports that the city’s Hotel Trades Council opposes the conversion of many of the larger hotels that employ its members, preferring to hand over smaller, dilapidated hotels. HONDA legislation grants the union veto power over hotel conversions.

NYC Mayor Adams Releases Housing Blueprint

The hotel conversion plan is among the points mentioned in a housing blueprint released by Mayor Eric Adams on June 14. The blueprint is nearly 100 pages and broadly lays out the stakes of the housing crisis and the approach that the Adams administration wishes to pursue, but is unfortunately light on specific commitments or dollar amounts.

Among the ideas in the document are a public housing plan that would decentralize the management of buildings by funding neighborhood-level property managers. Adams’ plan also embraces a wide range of funding streams to facilitate repairs in public housing, including a preservation trust, private management of buildings and selling off unused NYCHA land to private developers, all strategies that have been controversial with public housing residents. The blueprint also promotes the permitting of more ADUs as well as pursuing basement legalization, a pilot for which had been defunded during the de Blasio administration. Adams also plans to fully fund the city’s vouchers for people exiting homelessness, called cityFHEPS, an element that was included in the recently passed NYC budget.

San Diego City Council Approves $500 Payments For Seniors At Risk of Homelessness

San Diego’s City Council voted on June 14 to include a $500 a month rent subsidy to certain populations facing homelessness, including seniors, people with disabilities and families with children, KPBS reports. The money in the city’s Housing Stability Fund will be available to 300 households over a two-year period and includes $3.6 million in funding.

According to a report released by the San Diego nonprofit Serving Seniors, a quarter of homeless adults in San Diego are over 55 years of age and 40% are facing homelessness for the first time in their lives. The nonprofit interviewed 192 older adults who had experienced or been at risk of homelessness and found that 56% said $300 monthly payments would have been enough to keep them in their homes.

Chicago Housing Authority Approves Private Soccer Fields Where Housing Once Stood

According to an investigation by ProPublica and Chicago Tonight/WTTW News, Chicago’s public housing authority will lease 26 acres of land to develop a practice facility for the Chicago Fire Football Club, a soccer team owned by billionaire Joe Mansueto. The land being leased has been vacant for nearly 20 years, but once held four public housing developments home to 3,600 families. Two of the buildings were razed in 2003 as part of a plan to construct newer, mixed-use housing consisting of 2,441 new and 455 rehabbed units. Only 667 new units were built and the rehabbed units have since deteriorated, according to the report.

The investigation found that the housing authority received $60 million in federal funds to tear down and rehabilitate the buildings in the 1990s after the units had deteriorated too much to repair. Tenants were evicted and promised the ability to return to the rehabbed homes, similar to what happened to housing developments across the United States during the federal government’s underwriting of “urban renewal” in the 1950s and 1960s. According to ProPublica, less than 800 families were able to return, and more than 2,000 families were deemed ineligible.

The sale of land to the Chicago Fire soccer team is part of an ongoing development plan that has seen the Chicago Housing Authority lease land for use as a police station, Target, movie production house and tennis academy, according to the investigation.

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.

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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.

Tags: new york cityaffordable housinghomelessness

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