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State to Establish Fund to Buy Distressed Hotels to Provide Housing for The Homeless

State Sen. Michael Gianaris sponsored the “Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act’ that was signed into law Friday (Office of Senator Gianaris)

Aug. 17, 2021 By Allie Griffin

The state is establishing a fund in order to buy economically-distressed hotels and convert them into permanent housing for the homeless and people in need.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law Friday a bill called the “Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act” (HONDA), which calls for the creation of a fund to be used by the state to buy financially distressed hotels and commercial properties and convert them into permanent housing for vulnerable New Yorkers.

The bill was sponsored in the State Senate by Queens legislator Michael Gianaris.

The properties, once purchased and converted into permanent housing, would then be operated by non-profit housing providers, according to the new law.

Gianaris said that the new law would ease the city’s affordable housing crisis and help property owners with vacant buildings.

“New York has seen a decades-long affordable housing crunch exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic devastation,” Gianaris said. “HONDA will tackle the dual problems of distressed properties and lack of affordable housing made worse by the pandemic.”

There are more than 50,000 New Yorkers living in homeless shelters and countless others struggling to make rent, according to the senator’s office.

Bronx Assembly Member Karines Reyes sponsored the bill in the State Assembly and celebrated its signing into law alongside Gianaris.

“During the pandemic, it has been made abundantly clear that the housing crisis is a public health crisis,” Reyes said. “The Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act will provide the state with the tools it needs to assist New Yorkers as we continue our recovery through the pandemic.”

The program differs from the city’s practice of converting hotels into homeless shelters since it would turn the hotels and other commercial spaces into permanent affordable housing — not temporary shelters.

The fund to implement the program would be supported by money from the federal American Rescue Act. The fund could be as large as $2.2 billion, Gianaris said.

Many nonprofit leaders and housing advocates applauded the new law.

“Today, we celebrate a hard-fought victory for people experiencing homelessness, for low-income tenants, and for front-line service workers: the establishment of the Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act as the law of the land in New York State,” said David R. Jones, President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York.

Activists said the law has been a long-time coming and the result of years of grassroots organizing.

“Homeless New Yorkers won back dignity they’d been denied for over a decade by Governor Cuomo, with the passage of HONDA,” Paulette Soltani, Political Director of VOCAL-NY, said. “It took years of organizing and grassroots persistence to win, and we look forward to seeing homeless New Yorkers move into permanent, affordable housing created by this new law.”

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