NYC Is Spending $1.2 Billion On Homelessness. So Why Is It Getting Worse?

This post was originally featured on HuffingtonPost.com

It’s a little-known fact that the City of New York is legally obliged to provide housing for those without it, but with the explosion in the city’s homeless population, you’d be forgiven for not knowing that.

The number of people staying in shelters in New York City has grown by over 10,000 since Mayor de Blasio took office to more than 60,000, with no relief in sight. There is no official estimate for those who are not in shelters, but needless to say the total number of homeless in the city is a great deal higher. After committing to a record $1.6 billion in spending to fight the problem, the city has seen no reduction in the number of people forced onto our streets. Needless to say, there is no shortage of disturbing facts about this issue, but a look at our city streets is all one needs to realize it’s getting worse. What’s absolutely clear by now is that it’s not simply a matter of money. How could the problem be getting worse when our Mayor has made such a public stance against it?

One reason for the growth in the homeless population is also a fundamental source of consternation for most New Yorkers over the past decade or so. It’s no secret that, nationwide, housing affordability is a major issue, and New York City is home to some of the most egregious examples of this. As neighborhoods transform, housing costs go up and many working-class residents end up being priced out to make room for new arrivals. As you go down the earnings line, those at the bottom too often end up homeless after losing their jobs, sometimes even while they are still working. As much as affordable housing is a political bargaining chip, there is still not nearly enough of it to satisfy the needs of lower-income New Yorkers.

The buck doesn’t stop at City Hall, either. Decision-makers in Albany have made their own contributions to the crisis, depriving vital programs of funding. A proposed complex of affordable apartments in Sunnyside, Queens was scuttled by Governor Cuomo, invoking his authority over the MTA, which owned the land. Even going back to Mayor Bloomberg, his cancellation of the Advantage program which provided homeless with housing vouchers was disposed of for claimed reasons that the system was being abused. Today, fewer programs are giving the homeless the help they need.

The programs that do exist are often woefully inadequate. The overcrowded shelter system, the main infrastructural source of help for the homeless, has long been an insufficient source of support for people in need, especially families. Many users of the system have described it as a claustrophobic, prison-like environment where violence is an entirely too common sight. New York Daily News research found that in 2015, there were over 1,500 “critical incidents” of violence and ill behavior in city shelters, more than five per day. It’s no wonder that many choose to take their chances on the street rather than be locked in with a potentially dangerous population. Staying on the street is often a rational choice to be made over taking on the deteriorating conditions in the shelters.

Another inadequate option is what’s called “cluster housing,” where the city rents apartments in low-income neighborhoods for homeless families. Instead of having access to a support system, these families are instead placed at the mercy of landlords who are, in general, not attuned to the needs of their new tenants and are simply collecting checks from the city. The danger of these sites was thrown into the spotlight last December with the tragic story of two sisters under the age of 3 killed by a faulty radiator in a cluster apartment in the Bronx. Hotel placement has been similarly dispiriting, with conditions that are not much better. To his credit, Mayor de Blasio has vowed to shut down these cluster sites, but progress is slow.

A particularly unfortunate aspect of this crisis has been the lack of empathy not just from political leaders, but the population at large. Anger over housing for the homeless has erupted in several neighborhood protests of proposed housing for the homeless, with demonstrations in Maspeth, Queens shutting down a shelter that would have housed up to 220 people. These demonstrators frequently argue that new shelters are merely a bandaid for the problem, but a main opposition seems to be a simple desire for their neighborhood to stay the way it is.

All of us share in the responsibility to help those who need it. It’s clear that a serious problem exists, with no clear solution. What we can all do is maintain awareness and make a commitment to advocate and provide assistance for the unfortunate who live in our city’s streets. Not everyone needs to spend a few cold nights on the street in order for the city to possess some empathy for the less fortunate. We’re all New Yorkers, and we all deserve the dignity and compassion that’s been lacking for so many.

 

Looking Back: 7 Things I Would Tell My Younger Self

Listen to your gut.

This post was originally featured on Entrepreneur.com

When I was first starting out in real estate, I had a lot of passion, and I thought I knew what I was doing. But let’s face it, I was bound to make some mistakes along the way. But the great thing about mistakes is that when you learn from them, you gain some measure of wisdom. Now, some 20 years later, I still have that passion and drive, but there’s a thing or two I’d definitely tell my younger self. If only he’d listen.

1. Being good can be good for the bottom line.

Solar energy is the future. Fossil fuel has a definite expiration date, and it’s going to come sooner than later. Pollution caused by fossil fuel is getting increasingly worse, and solar energy can go a long way to offset that. Not only is it a highly efficient renewable resource, it is also good business. These days, there are so many tax credits, rebates and incentives that help encourage sustainability and going green. It’s an investment in the future in more ways than one.

2. Listen to your gut, not other people.

It’s not that I don’t value other people’s opinions, but I’ve learned that it can be even more important to listen to your own gut. If you look at most successful people, you’ll see that often, they did the things that others wouldn’t. If they had let other people dissuade them, they would have never created these incredible businesses or followed through on those seemingly crazy inventions and ideas that turned out to be brilliant.

When I was first starting out, I trusted the wrong people, and I trusted the advice and information that they were sharing with me. But that voice in your head exists for a reason. You should listen to it. Over time, you may find that it gets louder.

3. Take more risks.

There’s a Warren Buffett quote I love — “Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing.” When I was younger, I played things a bit safer, but as I learned more and learned to trust my own gut and gather my own intel, I began to take more risks. As everyone knows, more risk can mean greater rewards. You have to buy when others are afraid to. You have to seek out opportunities before others discover them. At the racetrack, you’re not going to win much money if you bet on the horse that always wins. Now, I’m not suggesting betting on the horse that always comes last. But if there’s a new horse that you’ve studied and looks like he’s the next undiscovered champion, you should probably bet on it. You just have to do your homework. Then your gut can make good choices and go all in.

4. Be consistent.

One thing that I’ve learned is that people want to do business with people they trust. The quickest way to earn their trust? Consistency. No one wants to work with someone who’s erratic and who can change their mind on a whim. They want to work with people who are reliable, stable and who they know will always keep their word. Wouldn’t you?

5. Learn to love numbers.

When I was just starting out, I didn’t realize just how much I would grow to love numbers. Often, passion starts with an idea, but numbers are just as important. As a businessman and investor, I crunch a lot of them. Before an idea can be turned into reality, the numbers have to add up. Without that, an idea alone won’t flourish. So loving and caring about numbers isn’t something you should look at as greedy. Rather, it’s something that’s essential for making sure that a business idea is sustainable.

6. Don’t be afraid to be different.

As you’ve probably realized by now, I am all for implementing environmentally friendly approaches to real estate — whether that means solar panels, like the ones in the Atelier condo building in New York, or other green technology. In a landscape that’s often referred to as a concrete jungle, making people feel truly at home means giving them something that connects with them in a unique way. So any project I take on, I try to give it a special twist. The Atelier, of course, has stunning views of the city and the Hudson River, but it also has the highest skating rink in New York, a huge health club, a basketball court and a movie theatre. Being involved with the Atelier really taught me how being different, taking risks and putting new ideas into what could have just been another typical luxury project can lead to others responding passionately to it too.

7. Don’t just try to predict the future. Learn from the past.

Keeping up with the trends and ahead of the curve is essential if you want to make good decisions. When I was starting out, I was especially excited about figuring out what would catch on in the future. But as I’ve grown, I’ve realized that it’s just as important to know what happened in the past. History keeps repeating, right? Besides, it’s much cheaper to learn from mistakes other people made in the past than make your own.

5 Troubling Statistics About Homelessness That You Should Know

If you live in a major city, homelessness is getting worse.

This post was originally featured on HuffingtonPost.com

In general, our country is seeing a decline in homelessness, but it’s still way too early to begin patting ourselves on the back for a job well done. From 2015 to 2016, the homeless population decreased by 3%, although that statistic is complicated by the fact that there was only a decrease among individuals living in sheltered locations (such as emergency shelters and transitional housing) while there was actually an increase in those living in unsheltered locations.

While many of the other statistics in The 2016 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress depict an overall improvement, there are no shortage of numbers from this and other surveys that when compiled, paint an ugly picture of homelessness in America.

1. If you live in a major city, homelessness is getting worse.

Results from the January 2016 point-in-time count from The Department of Housing and Urban.

Development (HUD) indicated that out of the total 549,928 people experiencing homelessness, 49% (268,322 people) were located in a major city. That may be up less than 1% from 2015, but it’s still a change in the wrong direction. One in five homeless people were living in either New York or Los Angeles with the majority of those in N.Y.C. living in sheltered locations while the majority in LA were living in unsheltered locations.

2. The Big Apple isn’t making it easy.

To add insult to injury: according to the Coalition for the Homeless: State of the Homeless 2017 report, changes to the application process for families to enter shelters have resulted in a decrease of homeless families receiving approval — from October 2016 to December 2016, the percentage of approved families dropped from 50% to 42%. What’s more, “ The percentage of homeless families forced to apply for shelter two or more times before being found eligible increased from 37 percent in July to 45 percent in December 2016,” and due to the complicated and time consuming process of completing new applications, homeless families are forced to resort to living in “emergency rooms, subway stations, or 24-hour businesses, and to miss school or work.”

And as I’ve written about before, the majority of New Yorkers have no savings, and that many are just about one paycheck away from becoming homeless. Considering the cost of rent in the city, this should come as no surprise.

3. Our ‘unaccompanied youth’ are between 18–24.

Unaccompanied youth, or individuals under 25 who are not with a parent, guardian, or their own children are most likely to be between the ages of 18–24. On a single night in January 2016, 89% of homeless unaccompanied youth were in that age range while 11% were under 18. In total, there were about 35,686 unaccompanied youth, making up about 7% of the entire homeless population. In Nevada, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Montana, the majority of unaccompanied homeless youth are unsheltered while the opposite is true for Nebraska, Rhode Island, Iowa, New York, and Maine.

4. There are homeless college students.

Not all of us were lucky enough to enjoy dorm life and all its offerings. In the recent update to the 2015 report from Wisconsin HOPE Lab titled Hungry and Homeless in College: Results from a National Study of Basic Needs Insecurity in Higher Education, it says that 14% of community college students were homeless during their period of enrollment and among the former foster youth surveyed, 29% were homeless. They also found that out of all Black and multi-racial students, there were more who were homeless than there were who were home secure.

College is hard enough as it is without having to worry about where you’re going to sleep at night and how you’re going to finish your assignments and get to work on time. Perhaps what’s more troubling than the first statistics alone is that 51% of those who were homeless were balancing employment along with their schooling and more than half of them worked 20–40 hours each week with the majority making less than $15/hour.

5. There are ways to help.

It may be tempting to write homelessness off as a problem best left for the big guys to solve, but even people like me and you can make a dent in this issue. Visit the National Alliance to End Homelessness Take Action page for more information on volunteering on national and local levels. We can’t stand by and watch.

Why Go Green?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “green building is the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and deconstruction.” The design of green buildings is created to reduce the overall impact on the natural environment and on human health. Just in the United States alone buildings account for 40 percent of total energy use, 12 percent of the total water consumption, 68 percent of total electricity consumption, and 38 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions (epa.gov). We have the potential of reducing energy consumption by up to 60 percent if we use energy efficient technologies. Even implementing a small change can make a difference.

The Atelier is currently home to the tallest residential solar installation in the country. In a desire to reduce operating costs and benefit the environment, hundreds of solar panels have been installed on the roof and side of the Atelier. According to Daniel Neiditch, President of the Atelier, just a year and a half after the panels were installed, they made their initial investment back. As of early 2015, the Atelier has seen about $120,000 in savings per year and has reduced energy consumption by about 15 percent. People think that the cost of installing the panels is too high but through energy savings you make your money back fast. Moreover, you are eligible for a tax rebate and will have positive environmental impacts. The Atelier is also going green through a newly implemented sustainability initiative. In addition to the solar panels, “other energy improvements include delamping, lighting upgrades, occupancy sensors, supply procurement and demand response” (mcenergyinc.com). Daniel Neiditch hopes that once people learn about the impact that the solar panels are having on the Atelier and how beneficial the panels and going green is for the health of the environment and humans that more people will install them and have their buildings go green. Below are some of the many perks of going green.

Environmental impact

  • Reducing trash, pollution and degradation of the environment
    • Protect biodiversity and ecosystems
  • Conserve natural resources
    • Efficiently using water, energy and other resources
    • Improve air and water quality, which directly benefits your health as well
    • Reduce waste streams

Economic benefits  

  • Savings
    • It may cost you more to get started but over time the savings add up- it’s an investment
      • Save on energy costs
      • Reduce operating costs
  • Impact on the economy
    • Create market for green product and services

Your health

  • Protecting occupant health and comfort
  • Improving productivity
  • Helping the environment helps you and will improve your overall quality of life

This article was originally published on DanielNeiditchRealEstate.com

The Cost of ‘Sheltering’ The Homeless May Be Too High

A question I hear a lot when I’m talking about homelessness in New York, is: “why don’t the homeless just stay in shelters?” It is more complex than many New Yorkers imagine–both the problems and the purported solutions. For me, the more important question is: ‘why shelters at all?’

As someone who has spent a lot of time with the homeless–as a volunteer EMT and as someone who lived on the streets for 3 nights–I know firsthand how we have failed our homeless population. Providing shelters, both private and public, may seem like a solution for those who aren’t homeless, but for those who are, there are systemic problems. I agree with them, and here’s why:

  1. Shelters are expensive
  2. Shelters are unsafe
  3. Shelters often provide unfit living conditions
  4. Shelters have not been proven to work long-term

According to a Mayor’s Management Report, housing one homeless person as of last summer was nearly $100 a day. But aside from the monetary cost to New York taxpayers, there also exists the very real life-threatening dangers that face shelter dwellers. Because of these reasons, many homeless families choose the streets over shelters.

In 2015, incidents officially labeled as “violent” included 153 assaults, 65 cases of child abuse, 174 domestic violence incidents, and 90 allegations of sexual assault involving residents.

It’s no better in “cluster” shelters (private apartments and hotels converted to house the homeless) either. Though cluster shelters may have fewer incidences of violence, they’re often rat-infested, poorly managed (if managed at all), and lacking in basic accommodations like clean water. Because these shelters are privately-owned and exempt from fines, the incentive to address safety and health violations are lost on the owners and the city. Cluster landlords are not contractually bound to follow DHS’ lead. So, the residents have no recourse.

The conditions are so bad that Mayor Bill de Blasio commissioned the Department of Investigation (DOI) to investigate. The DOI spent four months inspecting 25 homeless shelters across the city, interviewed occupants and landlords, and evaluated the sites based on cleanliness, management, and integrity.

In the five clusters investigated across multiple boroughs including Queens and Brooklyn, the DOI found a total of 223 violations from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), Department of Buildings (DOB), and Department of Housing Preservation and Development since 2012. Hotel cluster shelter facilities didn’t fare any better with 168 violations.

According to the DOI findings, “At its worst, DHS is turning a blind eye to violations that threaten the lives of shelter residents.”

These findings are no doubt a reason for de Blasio’s recent commitment to phase out ‘cluster sites’ and add 90 new shelters in New York City. Sure, this move from expensive and unfit hotels and apartment shelters shows a willingness to solve the homeless housing issue, but I’m not convinced this is a move in the right direction.

In the mayor’s speech on the matter, he estimated that creating 90 more shelters in NYC would cost $300 million over the next five years, but critics have put the figure at closer to $500 million, and that doesn’t include operating and staffing costs.

According to de Blasio, alleviating the homeless problem is a marathon, not a sprint. Patience is the key, “We will make progress, but it will be incremental. It will be slow,” he said. “I’m not going to lie to the people of New York City that we have an end in sight.”

But is the end really in sight? Maybe not the way we’ve been doing it. I suspect that the path to housing the homeless is the one less traveled: get them off the street by giving them a means to support themselves.

  1. Subsidized housing–Provide the homeless a pathway to sheltering themselves
  2. Job training — Training, whether in a trade or resume-building, to provide a pathway for them to support themselves
  3. Food stamps

In my experience, people who are homeless aren’t living on the streets because they chose to do so. Usually, they hit some bad times and ended up there. In fact, New Yorkers are roughly one paycheck away from being homeless because of loss of a job or some sort of injury. They want to work, they want housing, and they want to support themselves in order to get it. We should give them the means to do that. With the money we’re about to pour into building more shelters — something that has been proven not to work — there is an opportunity to enact a system that may work. And 2017 is as good a year as any to start investing in our homeless fellows.

This article was originally published on DanNeiditch.org

Five Types of New York City Real Estate You Should Buy Today

This post was originally featured on HuffingtonPost.com

Highly transparent and under-leveraged, the New York real estate market is one of the most stable in the world. If you are looking to make a savvy investment, now is a great time to beat rising property values — which are expected to increase by as much as 20 percent over the next three years — to secure real estate that will generate returns for years to come.

Traditionally, investors looked for opportunities in the affluent suburbs of Long Island and New Jersey, but growth in those areas has become stagnate. But today, we look to Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, and Hudson County, which are areas that are growing rapidly thanks to new job opportunities, especially in healthcare.

Healthcare jobs are growing by five percent per year — twice as fast as finance, the region’s primary economic and population driver — and account for 84 percent of New York City’s total population growth between 2015 and 2016. The rapid growth has increased New York’s population to a record high of 8,550,405 and shows no signs of slowing.

Here are the five most promising investment opportunities in the New York real estate sector to keep up with growth and changing demographics.

1. Apartment Buildings

As high home prices continue to rise and the city’s population continues to grow, a majority of New York residents are being driven into apartment building rentals located in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Hudson County. Therefore, apartment buildings purchased at the right price today can be a very lucrative investment.

Moreover, high proportions of immigrants — 40 percent in Hudson County and Brooklyn and 50 percent in Queens — create a large spread of incomes that create all kinds of opportunities for purchasing apartment buildings that cater to different income brackets.

2. Single-family Homes to be converted into Multiple Units

Because home prices are high compared to rents, pure single-family rentals are not likely to be lucrative investments, unless you’re looking to invest in a special area or are driven by other special circumstances. However, the high home prices that are driving people into renting can be lucrative if you’re able to purchase and refashion a single-family home into one featuring multiple units.

3. Retail Stores

Recent population increases in Brooklyn, and especially in Queens, have not been matched by the availability of new stores. In addition, the Bronx is underserved by new stores. Because healthcare jobs are growing and generating lower-, middle-, and higher-tier income across the city, retail stores are a reasonably safe investment.

4. Office Buildings

The same healthcare sector growth that is creating a need for new apartment buildings and stores, is also generating the need for new office space. Although millions of square feet of new office space are already under construction in Queens and Brooklyn, there is presently no indication that demand in those boroughs will slow even as the new planned office towers take shape. In fact, the office booms in these boroughs signal a healthy long-term future for New York’s overall economy.

Office space in Manhattan may also be a good investment, as Manhattan is still the center of the New York office world. Although 20 million additional square feet of office space are being constructed in Manhattan and are expected to be available by 2021, the number of new offices is insufficient to meet the demand from a booming economy. Nevertheless, reports have not accounted for additional space that is to be provided by new World Trade Center Towers, and the future absorption rate for new office space is unclear.

5. Mortgages and Construction Loans

Rising home prices will keep equity rising, too, making mortgages a sound investment. Although there is always some risk of default, that risk is just about average right now because rising home prices are in balance with incomes.

Alternatively, but in the same vein, construction loans will also go up with only an average risk of default, making them another prudent investment. Ingo Winzer, contributor to Forbes and president of Local Market Monitor — which has followed real estate dynamics since 1989 in over 300 communities — predicts 45,000 new houses and 70,000 apartments will be constructed in Queens over the next three years. Brooklyn will only see 40,000 new homes constructed, but 110,000 new apartments. The Bronx will likely experience modest new home construction but is expected to grow by 60,000 new apartments.

The idea that New York real estate is out-of-reach for those looking for sound investments may be closer to reach than many would think. The worst thing to do when thinking of buying real estate is to wait — especially in the ever-booming New York City.

What Proof That The Ozone Is Shrinking Means for Us

graphic image showing a view of the earth Background

Over forty years ago, scientists discovered the harmful effects of our use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) on the earth’s Ozone Layer. The Ozone Layer, which shields the earth from damaging ultraviolet rays, was said to have an expanding, thinning hole just above Antarctica. At that time, in 1974, experts began predicting the depletion of this stratospheric covering would be relatively rapid if ignored, to perpetually damaging results, even deadly. In response, a list of major countries around the world entered an agreement known as the Montreal Protocol to curb as well as eliminate the use of CFCs and substances causing such damage.

Now, nearly two years since the agreement, new research has emerged to show that the hole in the ozone layer is shrinking, or healing, according to some. Though the layer continued to grow thinner in the 1980s and 1990s, since 2000, it has shrunk by an estimated 1.7 million miles as of this year. This occurred despite the presence of a new hole in 2006 and interference attributed to volcanic activity in 2015, which showed the hole expanding.

What Does This Mean?

The Work Is Not In Vain

The good news in this is not merely bragging rights for scientists to say “I told you so,” not that anyone would. To be absolutely clear, science is deserving of accolades and credit for both the prescience to inspire such programs and the patience to see it through. Nevertheless,  it is a testament to our ability as inhabitants of this planet to take responsibility for our actions and to rectify the harm we’ve done. Though perceived as frivolous or even expensive, these results show that it is wholly rational to make efforts to protect the planet.

We’re Better Together

Furthermore, with many crediting the Montreal Protocol as the definitive action resulting in modern progress, it shows the need for unity and involvement from all parties. The original agreement happened between 20 countries. By 2015, 197 had showed support for this initiative, becoming the first treaty to receive universal ratifications in the United Nations’ history. It’s hard to imagine that the current healing process would be as successful or as immediate without international efforts to build awareness and reduce CDCs.

We Have More To Do

Even with this current update, there is work to be done toward changing this course. Scientists predict that at the current rate, by 2050 the hole will have reverted to 1980 levels, resulting in less danger for crops, animals and people. Additionally, Global Warming presents a major challenge in terms of climate and subsequent natural disasters. The more recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, which set emissions targets for participating countries, are actively working toward that, but it has been slow.

Realizing the urgency of these matters, The Atelier has undergone renovations to be more environmentally friendly, as mentioned in a previous blog. New York City is just one of the places dear to us at risk of rising sea levels. Thus, continued action and change is necessary, and as we’ve seen with the Montreal Protocol, the time is now to make it happen.

This article was originally published on DanielNeiditchRealEstate.com