How to Address Increasing Homelessness? Recapture Vacant Land

In January 2012, Picture the Homeless released a report, “Banking on Vacancy,” to document vacant property in New York City and make suggestions as to how that space can be used to reduce homelessness and increase low income housing. During this time, 38,000 people were living in city shelters. Here are their findings:

The numbers show that there was a massive amount of under-utilized housing stock in New York City. So much, in fact,that the vacant spaces in just one-third of the city (the area their survey covered) could house the number of people living in the shelter system many times over.

Since the survey was conducted, the need to recapture vacant buildings and land for affordable housing has only intensified. In August, the Bloomberg administration reported that nearly 50,000 people are spending the night in New York City shelters. This is almost a 10% increase in the number of recorded homeless people – the actual number is likely much higher, as un-housed people seeking shelter with family, friends, or spending the night outside are not recorded. In the wake of this increase, the Department of Homeless Services rushed to open nine new shelters in just two months.

The problem deepens: In a joint press conference with Cuomo on November 4th, Bloomberg emphasized the major housing crisis that left in Sandy’s wake. According to Bloomberg, there are as many as 40,000 New Yorkers that “we’re going to have to find housing for.” The Governor agreed: “There’s going to be a massive, massive housing problem.”

Now, more than ever, seems like an ideal time to return to Picture the Homeless’ survey. The unprecedented number of shelter-seeking people in New York, along with a possible influx of federal disaster relief money, calls for innovative housing solutions. By directing disaster relief money towards rehabilitating vacant property, we could provide housing to victims of Sandy – many of whom are NYCHA residents – while stabilizing long term affordable housing in New York City.



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