This story tells of a demonstration staged by Democratic politicians on the Upper West Side of Manhattan on the issue of homelessness. In attendance: Rep. Charlie Rangel, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Councilwoman Gail Brewer, and others. What they’re all doing, though, is protesting against the creation of a homeless shelter.
In one of the craziest acts of regulatory silliness in recent history, members of the New York state legislatures took it in their heads to get all riled up about the fact that “residential hotels” in Manhattan were increasingly being used not as places to live but as places to rent rooms by the day or week to travelers and tourists. A tenant pays $400-$500 per month. A transient will pay $100 a night. You do the math.
The conversion of these residential hotels (which, in the context of permanent housing, refers to facilities with tenants living in rooms without kitchens) into tourist hotels was for some reason deemed a great evil and unfair to the residents. Some of the buildings are not zoned for transience; others do not have the right permits. Nobody seems to care about all this except “housing advocates,” a category of activist all but unique to New York City, whose hunger for more affordable housing would seem to be in conflict with their hatred of everybody who actually owns a building and dares to rent out an apartment.
An assemblywoman named Linda Rosenthal explained how mean the use of residential-hotel space for transient payers is: “They lose a lot by having people stay there who don’t feel a responsibility to keep it clean and nice. When there are transients there, they feel like they can do whatever they want.” And so it was time for a state law to layer on top of other laws to prevent such horrible transience — for what particular reason is not clear. But it was passed, and then-Governor Paterson signed it, and it goes into effect soon.
So what some of those who own these hotels have decided to do is lease them to the New York City Department of Homeless Services, which will pay them a generous room rate to house homeless people comparable to what they would get from Europeans looking for a cheap room. That this is what would have happened if the law had passed originally was clear at the time; the landlords themselves said it’s what they would do; and the city needs the shelter space.
But … but … not in my affluent and ostensibly caring (70 percent Obama) neighborhood! So gasp these very liberal Democratic politicians, who are not ordinarily known for taking a stand against the notion that the city and state should be responsible for housing the homeless. In particular, Rangel has long claimed the mantle of homeless advocate, but evidently not when he’s still mindful he might be out of a job in two years owing to his legal troubles.
New York City has had a demented housing policy for six decades, and this is just the latest iteration. By the way, one of those residential hotels is right across the street from my apartment building. And the people who seem to be staying there all look very nice, rolling their bags up and down the block. If it becomes a homeless shelter, those nicely packed bags will soon become grocery carts, and the people pushing them won’t be quite so nice.