Notorious Brooklyn slumlord Yury Baumblit—one of the city's large-scale operators of three-quarter housing for the mentally-ill, substance-addicted, disabled and formerly-incarcerated—was the subject of a galling NY Times investigation this spring, but he nevertheless continues to take advantage of struggling New Yorkers, according to a follow-up from the paper.
This latest update on Baumblit comes half a year after the de Blasio administration launched a multi-agency task force intended to inspect and more harshly regulate the dilapidated and overcrowded residences. "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 in the beginning of June.
Since then, none of the city's three-quarter housing apartments have been shut down. The Federal Government has stepped in to reassign tenants formerly serviced by bankrupt and Baumbilt-affiliated rehab provider Narco Freedom, but the News reports that conditions under the replacement-providers have worsened.
The city's reliance on three-quarter housing has increased considerably in the last decade, as a result of former mayor Bloomberg's efforts to reduce the size of city shelters. Under current law, New Yorkers on public assistance receive a $215 monthly "shelter allowance"—a low allotment by NYC rent standards that incentivizes landlords to cram as many tenants into a unit as possible.
Medicaid fraud is also not uncommon among landlords managing three-quarter housing. In the case of Baumblit, tenants told the NY Times that they were bussed to clinics for unnecessary tests so that he could collect Medicaid kickbacks. Others said that they were forced to sign over their government disability checks to him, and still others said that they were threatened with eviction unless they relapsed and went back into rehab programs.
According to the June task force announcement, representatives from the Fire Department, Health Department, and the Department of Buildings and Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) would send representatives to residences housing 10 or more people on the $215/month allowance.
The NY Times reports that the task force has inspected 84 three-quarter homes since June, and relocated 300 people into temporary housing, primarily hotels. In total, 43 of those tenants have been moved to permanent housing.
High profile homeless services organizations like the Fortune Society, which provides supportive housing to thousands of formerly-incarcerated New Yorkers every year, have also continued to refer New Yorkers to three-quarter housing. According to Fortune Society President JoAnne Page, she still does so when "there’s no better alternative."
And Baumblit—whose company is called, ironically, the Back on Track Group—is still cramming his residences, despite the fact that inspectors have visited one of his East New York residences four times in recent months. There, 36 tenants sleep in a single townhouse. The landlord faces criminal charges for allegedly illegally evicting tenants. Still, as the Times puts it, things are "business as usual."
"We have been working to make the three-quarter houses as safe as possible, while trying to avoid increasing homelessness for a group that has made it clear that they will live on the streets instead of going to the shelters,” said David Neustadt, deputy commissioner for the city's Human Resources Administration, in a statement to the Times.
In the immediate aftermath of the task force announcement, some homeless advocates argued that systemic change would be impossible barring a significant increase in affordable, permanent housing in New York City.
Luther Mack, an activist with the Three Quarter House Tenant Organizing Project, spent a year as a Baumblit tenant with more than 30 others at 438 Hancock Street, a bedbug-infested three-story townhouse in Bed-Stuy.
He told us in June, "I don't really think… that this is really going to be that crucial unless the tenants have a voice to say what happens too... We need for people to give us a directional path to fair housing, affordable housing for low-income people."
In the intervening months, Governor Cuomo made an executive order intended to ban housing discrimination against potential tenants with criminal records, who might otherwise end up in three-quarter housing. But advocates have expressed disappointment in his position on supportive housing—permanent residences for New Yorkers suffering from mental and physical illnesses, trauma, and addiction.
While Mayor de Blasio recently announced a commitment for 15,000 supportive housing units over the next 15 years, Cuomo has suggested only an additional 3,900.
"There is absolutely no way that this city can address homelessness in a real way without two things," Jeremy Saunders, a lead organizer for Vocal New York, told us this fall. "First, the mayor needs to start pressing developers in his affordable housing plan and actually set aside units for homeless families. Second, Governor Cuomo needs to actually deliver on funding for supportive housing."
The Mayor's and Governor's Offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment.