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De Blasio: 90 new NYC homeless shelters over next 5 years

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio Tuesday proposed opening 90 new shelters over the next five years as part of his administration's latest plan to curb rising homeless rates. Feb. 28, 2017. (Credit: Newsday / Matthew Chayes)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio Tuesday proposed opening 90 new shelters over the next five years as part of his administration’s latest plan to curb rising homeless rates.

The mayor, who is seeking re-election this year, outlined his vision to combat homelessness in a speech before social service advocates in lower Manhattan, where he acknowledged that the proposal, which focuses on distributing shelters throughout the five boroughs, may prove politically unpopular.

“It doesn’t take us to nirvana by any sense of the imagination,” de Blasio said. “This is a blood and guts work strategy because we’ll be fighting this war,” for a long time.

Last month there were 60,391 people living in city shelters, up from 51,470 in January 2014 when de Blasio first took office, according to figures provided by the mayor’s office. The mayor noted that homelessness has been on a steady climb over the past three decades, fueled most recently by rising housing costs and stagnant wages.

Under the plan, the city would eliminate the controversial practice of housing homeless residents in hotels by 2023. The city would also stop placing families in so-called “cluster” housing sites by 2021. The sites, consisting of apartment rentals in predominantly low-income neighborhoods, have come under scrutiny by housing advocates and lawmakers for their squalid and dangerous living conditions.

To replace the hotels and cluster sites, de Blasio’s plan calls for opening 20 new shelters this year and 20 more in 2018. The plan also calls for opening shelters in existing buildings over the next five years. The city would also renovate and expand 30 existing shelters, according to a report released by the mayor’s office.

The mayor’s aides said the city would use $300 million from its capital budget to pay for some of the shelter projects and also direct funds from the homeless services budget to pay for the plan.

De Blasio did not detail where the shelters would be placed, but said the city would increase its outreach to neighborhoods to notify them of proposed shelter sites.

“We owe communities . . . better notification, more accountability, more community input,” said de Blasio, who has faced stiff resistance from residents in several Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan neighborhoods who have protested using hotels as homeless shelters.

De Blasio said the city’s homeless population would decrease by 2,500 people over the next five years under the plan.

“Is it a gloryful [sic] goal? Is it everything we want it to be? No. It’s an honest goal,” de Blasio said.

Christine Quinn, who lost to de Blasio in the 2013 mayoral race and now runs a nonprofit shelter network for women and families, called the goal of reducing the homeless population by 2,500 “realistic.”

“There’s no quick fix. I think 2,500 — people are going to say it’s too low. You know what? It’s real life and it’s realistic. And we have to stop promising New Yorkers that homelessness is going to end overnight. This is a crisis. Our first job is to end the crisis, so look, I’d love to say it could be more than 2,500, but I prefer at this point, honesty,” said Quinn, who was at de Blasio’s speech.

City Councilman Eric Ulrich, a Queens Republican, criticized the plan, saying “de Blasio set expectations so incredibly low today that you have to wonder if he was even being serious.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has been critical about the mayor’s response to the rise in homelessness, told reporters in Albany he hadn’t reviewed de Blasio’s plan, and was “not in a position to comment on it.”

With Michael Gormley

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