New York City’s mayor announced Sunday that he has launched a multiagency investigation of a vast network of unregulated and taxpayer-funded residences that house thousands of current and former substance abusers in the city’s poor neighborhoods.
The city may have as many as 600 “three-quarter houses,” which occupy a gray area between halfway houses and independent living and take in millions of public dollars every year. Many tenants have been cited repeatedly for building violations and vermin, and their operators have been sued for illegally evicting residents, sometimes in the middle of the night.
“We will not accept the use of illegally subdivided and overcrowded apartments to house vulnerable people in need of critical services,” said New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. "The City has already been working to identify these residences and this task force will accelerate inspections and enforcement, relocate residents where necessary, and make recommendations to end this terrible practice.”
Advocates have long raised warnings about the residences, but for years this didn’t stop government agencies, like New York State’s parole department, from directing people to the homes.
The mayor’s announcement comes on the heels of a New York Times investigation into Yury Baumblit, a longtime operator of three-quarter homes. In January, NBC News reported that the owners of Narco Freedom, a substance abuse treatment program that also ran nearly two-dozen three-quarter houses, had been criminally indicted for Medicaid fraud, among other charges.
Though “three quarter homes” are not government run, they are supported by public dollars. The vast majority of tenants have their rent paid through a $215 monthly shelter subsidy from the city. Some residents also say they are required to attend Medicaid-funded drug treatment or face eviction, prompting concerns about kickbacks to the houses.
The mayor called on his senior staff to immediately review all residences that house 10 or more unrelated adults who receive the $215 allowance. Officials from five city agencies will visit the homes to document health and safety violations. The city will then have the option to withhold rent from operators with repeated or serious violations. If necessary, it may relocate some tenants.
Finding a place for residents may be a challenge. The city is already struggling to house more than 56,000 people in shelters each night. Residents interviewed by NBC News said they remain in the homes despite bedbug infestations and open drug use because they have nowhere else to go.