A day after the New York Times published its gripping exposé about the system of so-called "three-quarter houses," Mayor de Blasio has announced a multiagency crackdown on operators of the facilities, who cram addicts, recently released prisoners, and mentally ill and otherwise disabled people into apartments, collecting $215 per month per person from the state in the process.
"We will not accept the use of illegally subdivided and overcrowded apartments to house vulnerable people in need of critical services," de Blasio told the Times on Sunday.
The plan outlined in the Times's follow-up article—concerted inspections of apartments by the Fire Department and the departments of Buildings and Housing Preservation and Development—is a step, but as the original investigation outlined, those agencies lack teeth. They often can't even get their inspectors in the door, and when they do, the fines they issue often go unpaid.
Nor is this an issue first brought to the attention of city officials over the weekend. Investigative reporters have been writing for years about how the system places recovering addicts in drug dens and is rife with the kind of kickbacks-for-rehab-referral schemes that found their logical extreme in Times subject Yury Baumblit allegedly forcing addicts to relapse under threat of eviction.
Yet, former mayor Michael Bloomberg legitimized three-quarter housing as a safety net by seeking to reduce homeless shelter roles, and city officials have proved ineffective at getting the most basic regulation of the system. As the original Times report notes:
At a City Council hearing in 2009, the chief of fire prevention for the Fire Department called for a list of three-quarter homes to help firefighters know if a home was overcrowded or had blocked exits.
Still, no list exists.
In 2009, Bill de Blasio, then chairman of the Council’s general welfare committee, pushed for guidelines to prevent shelters from referring people to three-quarter homes with building violations. The measure passed the following year.
But as the city’s housing crisis has worsened, shelters have continued to send people to [Baumblit's facilities].
De Blasio is also pushing for the state to increase the rental allowance, which hasn't changed since 1988, to lessen the incentive for housing operators to cram people into slum conditions (Baumblit at one time was fitting 10 people to a three-bedroom, 120 in six two-unit houses on one block).
More details of de Blasio's response are expected to be publicized at noon. We will update this story if there are substantive additions.