New York City hotels left vacant by the pandemic will be turned into "supportive housing" providing assistance to people struggling with mental illness or substance abuse and to people leaving the prison system, under the proposed plan. on Monday by Eric Adams, who is likely to be the city's next mayor.
More than 20 percent of the city's hotels are now closed, the trade association said. At the same time, the city is facing a homelessness crisis, growing sentiment against the warehousing of homeless people in shelters such as barracks and the many mentally ill people living on the streets.
"The combination of Covid-19, the economic downturn, and the problems we're having with housing gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Adams, who won June's Democratic mayoral election, as he stood outside a covered hotel in Brooklyn's Sunset Park. “Use this hotel not to be an eyesore, but a place where people can see good, affordable and quality housing.”
The details of the plan are thin. Mr Adams mentioned the possibility of 25,000 hotel rooms being converted, but he said he would focus on areas outside Manhattan, where the number of rooms in closed hotels is much smaller than that.
He was unclear about whether there was any overlap between his plans and the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, and the former governor of New York, Andrew M. Cuomo, had begun building 25,000 support housing units in the city by sometime by 2030. A campaign spokesman Mr. Adams said Mr Adams was also considering converting rooms in a former hotel that had become a homeless shelter into permanent support housing apartments, something Mr de Blasio had also discussed.
Mr Adams said that setting up a studio apartment in an existing hotel would be much cheaper and faster than building affordable housing from scratch.
During the mayoral election, he was one of several candidates calling for housing in an updated version of a one-room residential hotel, or SRO, a form of housing once synonymous with slums and crime that was torn down en masse in the late 20th century, but it has made a comeback in other cities.
“I'm a big 'S.R.O.' man modernized," Adams said. "We can create safe spaces especially for single adults, who are a growing population."
The hotel and homeless nexus has been contested during the pandemic. Early in the lockdown imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus, thousands of people who had been living in dorm-style shelters were moved to hotel rooms, mostly in Manhattan where their presence led to complaints from some residents about harassment and sometimes violence. Since then, the city has moved most of those people back to group shelters.
Several supporters for the homeless and for housing support supported Mr Adams' plan and stood with him at the press conference. "Adams could be the mayor who uses this moment of change to change the trajectory of the homeless," Laura Mascuch, executive director of the New York Supporting Housing Network, said in an interview. "We look forward to working with Adams to implement the strongest supporting housing program in the country."
Another lawyer invited by Mr. Adams to speak of is a former homeless man named Shams Da Baron and who rose to prominence last year as the de facto spokesperson for the homeless housed in a Manhattan hotel. In the New York primaries, Mr Da Baron favored a more progressive candidate over Mr Adams, a former police captain. But on Monday he offered the candidate a warm hug and urged him to follow through with his plans.
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“We are in a crisis,” said Da Baron. "Do what it takes to get people stationed."