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January 25, 1994
Housing, Housing, Housing

by George McDonald
It almost looked like an old homeless social service reunion on the pages of New York Newsday -- Robert Hayes, William Grinker, Mary Brosnahan and David Beseda, all homeless policy "players" from the end of the Koch days. Only one face, belonging to Carey Wainwright, a homeless man, was new. Now, while Hayes and Beseda propose a "New Deal," Brosnahan and Wainwright say it will flood the streets and Grinker says it will flood the shelters. Each person is right, and all of them miss the point [New York Forum, Jan. 20].

While all three positions may sound reasonable -- the problem is that they just won't work. At the end of any homeless program, there must be housing. Skilled, employable, and low-income homeless people are still homeless. Beseda and Hayes never discuss where people will be housed. Brosnahan and Wainwright's housing will cost billions of dollars, which the city doesn't have. And Grinker does not fully address the issue of where people will be housed. "Housing, housing, housing" may not solve the homeless problem, but the problem surely cannot be solved without it.

Unfortunately, New York City is its own worst enemy when it comes to creating low-income housing for single adults. Since 1954, the creation of rooming housing units, a common form of housing for single people, has been prohibited by city law. The only exceptions to this are rooming units built by government or select not-for-profit groups.

So the question New York City must ask itself is: Does it want to allow housing construction for single New Yorkers? If the answer is yes, then the city must amend current law. If the answer is no, then New Yorkers had best be prepared to face the status quo well into the next century.

George T. McDonald

Editor's note: The writer is president of The Doe Fund, which provides direct services, job training and housing for the city's homeless.

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