Land Banks And Other Strategies To Fight Homelessness

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Last night, despite a sustained economic recovery, more than 56,000 New Yorkers slept in a shelter. Among them were 23,000 children who will soon head to their first day of school with one hand tied behind their back.

No one is blameless for this human catastrophe: not the federal government, which has slashed funding for public housing and social services; not the state, which has balked at fully funding a joint city-state rental assistance program; and not the city, which continues to approach the crisis of homelessness as if it were an unforeseeable emergency.

Meanwhile, as the blame game continues, New Yorkers suffer. Since January 2014, the number of families with children in city shelters has risen by 11%. The number of single adults has soared 20%.

What we need is action — now — to create ample permanent housing options for homeless New Yorkers and people at risk of becoming homeless. The longer we wait, the more New Yorkers will end up facing eviction and the more children will end up going to sleep in shelters.

The hard truth is that the city needs a long-term strategy to address the root causes of homelessness. Instead, we’ve seen an ad-hoc, piecemeal approach that relies on opening shelters on short notice with lax oversight and quality control.

In the last 20 months, my office has approved emergency declarations from the Department of Homeless Services for over 2,180 shelter units for homeless families and over 1,420 shelter beds for single adults. Too often, we’ve also had to send back contracts because the city hasn’t done enough to make sure that families aren’t being forced to live in rat-infested hovels with many violations.

What’s needed is a bigger, bolder homeless-prevention plan.

No solution should be off the table, including the creation of a New York City Land Bank. From Buffalo and Syracuse to Cleveland and Atlanta, land banks are facilitating the return of vacant and tax-delinquent properties to productive use. Just as Mayor Ed Koch used city-owned properties to boost our affordable housing stock, a land bank could help rebuild neighborhoods devastated by the foreclosure crisis.

Please see The Daily News for the rest of the Op-Ed

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