NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The city this summer has immensely increased its use of private commercial hotels – some of them quite luxurious – to house the homeless.
As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, the increase comes despite a vow by Mayor Bill de Blasio to phase out the practice.
The Excelsior Hotel on West 85th Street has a leafy view of the American Museum of Natural History, a fitness room, and a full-service concierge.
The hotel also brags that it “offers discerning guests an authentic, residence-style experience in the heart of New York City’s Upper West Side… distinguished by relaxed yet sophisticated ambiance and unpretentious style.”
But as the city’s homeless population has soared, the Excelsior is also home to 40 homeless families. The families are lodged there by the city, and are causing some measure of consternation to guests and local residents alike.
“I believe it’s about $200 to $300 a night, because I put my grandchildren and my daughter up here, and it’s expensive. The rooms are very nice,” said Renee Fineberg of the Upper West Side. “But somehow, for $300 a night, for what you’re paying here, you could pay for one month in a rehabilitated apartment.”
Despite a promise by Mayor de Blasio to stop renting space for the homeless in commercial hotels, the practice has soared 50 percent this summer – from 2,656 homeless residents in hotels in February to 3,990 in July, and from 41 hotels in February to 46 in July.
City Human Resources Commissioner Steve Banks said the city is committed to phasing out the use of commercial hotels. But he said to do so, the city needs to build more shelters and apartments – which it is desperately trying to do.
“We have to do the clusters first, and it’s very important to put additional shelter space online,” Banks said. “We can’t overnight open shelters.”
Also the city’s priority is to phase out the so-called cluster shelters – apartments for families that often prove dilapidated.
Homeless advocate George McDonald agreed, saying the clusters have to go first.
“There is no doubt that moving 11,000 families out of the clusters is the right approach,” said McDonald, of the Doe Fund. “Doing that first, before you empty the hotels, is the right approach.”
McDonald pointed out that the city’s use of commercial hotels is a time-honored practice. In 1972, then-Mayor John Lindsay even put one homeless up in the Waldorf Astoria.
The city said it is now paying an average of $161 per night for rooms in the commercial hotels.