The city will spend an estimated $59 million this year to house homeless families in buildings occupied by rent-paying tenants, many of whom say their landlords are pressuring them to move out because housing the homeless is more lucrative. In a process known as "cluster-site" housing, the city pays nonprofit agencies to place homeless families in apartments and provide employment help and other social services. The homeless residents are required to sign in and out, and a 24-hour security guard is stationed in the lobby to prohibit visitors.
The cluster-site program earns landlords an average of $1,730 for their units, some of which were rent-stabilized and brought in significantly less revenue. 64-year-old Deonarine Srikishun, who pays $830 a month for the two-bedroom apartment where he has lived for 27 years, tells the Times his landlord has been harassing him to move out: "They’re going to bring in homeless people, and then they’re going to make us homeless." Other tenants object because they were never told homeless families would be moving in; indeed, the city says it notifies residents only if more than half the building will be used.
Catherine Barbosa, an elementary school teacher who pays $1,050 a month for a two-bedroom apartment in one of the cluster-site buildings, says, "I don’t pay rent to live in a homeless shelter, that’s how I feel." And tenants aren't the only ones critical of the program; homeless advocates say the city should be giving homeless families more of the federal subsidized housing vouchers known as Section 8. Steven Banks, attorney in chief for the Legal Aid Society, says, "The city is shooting itself in the foot. It is far more costly to house families in apartments as shelter than to house them in permanent housing."
Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs disagrees, and insists the cluster-site housing works better because it provides families with caseworkers who develop independent living plans. The city is currently housing 35,000 people, down from the 38,000 on the city's rolls in 2004, when Mayor Bloomberg vowed to cut the number in two-thirds within five years. The number of homeless families is currently at near-record levels.