Housing photo of the day 03: the ultimate air bnb?

June 26, 2017 | Cambridge, Homelessness, Housing, HPoD, Informality, libraries, Local issues | No comments 43 views

By: David A. Smith


Homeless person’s shelter just out of shot


On summer weekends I play tennis outdoors, at the free Cambridge hard courts on the campus-like layout of both our high school (Cambridge Rindge and Latin) and the library (a Richardsonian core with a dramatic and airy expansion).


Richardsonian architecture at left, modern at right: Cambridge library


Cambridge is a fabulously rich city, with an enormous annual operating budget ($574 million in FY 17, equivalent to $5,200 per resident) and a sterling (Aaa) bond rating (thanks, Harvard and MIT!).


Don’t whinge about poverty, Cambridge


As a result, our library and public schools are both physically top-drawer:


Can you see where the homeless people sleep?


The courts are an eight-minute walk from our house, and I play in the early morning, seven or eight am, when the courts are empty except for the homeless regular who sleeps in a sheltered corner niche under a broad metal eave by the courts’ entrance.


Once the sun goes down, you’d never know this little corner was there


The courts have no outside lighting and the library closes no later than 9:00 pm, so after that darkness falls, it’s invisible.


This particular location is out of the way: you can get to the tennis courts by walking between the high school’s second entrance and the back of the library, but you would do this only if you knew where you’re going.


Occupied dark to dawn, now vacated


Out of the way spaces are usually occupied by a city’s informal residents and businesses, and so it is with these little one-person enclaves: they are occupied virtually any morning that I pass them before 7:30, summer (to tennis) and winter (when I decide to walk to Central Square subway station for a bit of brisk exercise).


The tennis corner locale is always claimed by a fellow I’ve mentally dubbed Timothy Leary: sixty-plus, gray hair, stocky, blue-and-white plaid checkered shirt.  Depending on when I arrive, he is either sleeping on what appears to be a yoga roller mat, or slowly rolling it up.  That corner is his space; I’ve never seen anyone else sleeping there.  He totes his belongings in a stainless steel handle-roller shopper cart with the bedroll atop it.


Urban homeless luggage


Though the tennis balls thocking may be a distraction, he always moves deliberately, and rests frequently.  I think it’s because his daily spot – inside the library – doesn’t open until 9:00 am, and his commute is scarcely two hundred yards, so there’s no hurry.


The way out of the niche, the way in to the tennis courts


If he’s there when I arrive, out of deference I’ll take one of the courts away from his.  I’m confident he recognizes me – I certainly recognize him – but he’s mute in the morning.  (Then again, so am I.)


Sleeping under the ‘high school eave’


He’s not the only library-campus homeless resident; another fellow, whom I’ve seen only as a shapeless sleeping bundle, occupies a superior location in the eave behind a grass berm that’s both a visual barrier and some kind of Cambridge New-Age horticultural experiment (Please Keep off the Plants). 


What you see when you wake in the better location


That fellow is even more of an incumbent: in winter, when the high school operations men are trundling out the garbage, they take no notice of him and he none of them.


His spot is better than Timothy’s – more privacy, less wind, and with a better view.


What you see when you wake in the better location


The regulars know each other; when Timothy heads out of the tennis courts around to the front of the library, he greets others whom I recognize.  They sometimes settle down on the park benches before the library, so they’re close at hand when it opens.  I am fairly sure that he goes in and spends the day there – more than likely he does his ablutions in one of the bathrooms – but to investigate further would feel like stalking, so I don’t. 


Other accommodations less than a block away, at $195+ per night


We think of the homeless as lacking choice, but Timothy has made his.  However he came to this situation, he knows what he is doing, he has his routine well worked out, and by his lights it contents him.

The problem with rights: Part 5, Unequivocally tirelessly

June 23, 2017 | Affordable Housing, Government, Homelessness, Housing, legal rights, Litigation, New York City, philosophy, rights, Subsidy, Supportive housing | No comments 41 views


By: David A. Smith


[Continued from the preceding Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.]


An infinity in a microscopic universe?


When Catholic philosophers from Thomas Aquinas onward speculated on how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, the question was not the absurdity our smug age has made of it.  Rather, it was a means of objectifying the metaphysical question, Is God part of our universe?  If so, then angels are part of the universe and they must have a size so the total must be finite.  If God and heaven exist beyond our universe, in the realm of metaphysics, then it could be an infinite number.


Similarly, most of the rights we claim have no budget.  The right of free speech, the right to vote, the right to our own property – these rights of opportunity cost no one else money to fulfill.  But the right to affordable housing, the right government-provided medical or health care – these rights of outcome, if they exist legally, do cost money.  So a constitution or its laws can grant rights of opportunity to everyone with infinite expensiveness, but if that constitution or jurisprudence grant a right of outcome, that’s a shifted monetary mandate and its expansiveness is finite.


And count myself a king of infinite space


“The state’s system to help people move out of adult homes is not working,” said Cliff Zucker, the general counsel for Disability Rights New York.


[Atop his previous platform, Disability Advocates, Inc., Mr. Zucker was a principal litigator whose suits led to the consent decree. – Ed.]


Zucker man, enabled


Rights-based policy is a metaphysical political debate, and after four decades of working in a policy arena that is supremely physical (housing), I’ve concluded that there should be no rights of outcome, only rights of opportunity, and that correcting deficiencies of outcome is not a right an obligation of a rich society ‘subject to’ practical budgetary limitations.  Outcomes delivery must always be not law but politics.

Sources used and AHI major posts referenced in this post


Pro Publica (April 6, 2017), purple font

New York Times (April 14, 2017), black font

New York Times (July 23, 2013), caramel font

New York Times (June 24, 2010), burnt orange font

New York Times (April 28-30, 2002), dark green font


Hoarding and housing, February 12, 2009, 2 parts

New York’s self-reinforcing homelessness system, October 21, 2013, 3 parts

New York City’s homeless magnet, January 9, 2017, 3 parts, green shaded


Worse still, rights based policy invites external parties to increase the cost at no cost to themselves:


The Justice Department, which intervened in the case before the appellate ruling and has aggressively brought claims on behalf of disabled people who live in isolation, considered bringing its own lawsuit against the state, but the agreement halts that litigation.


Naturally, the Department of Justice will neither pay a nickel for the solution nor obligate the Federal government to do so. 


Last month, Judge Garaufis called all the parties into court for a hearing where, in blunt and caustic language, he warned that the state was “far from hitting its numbers.”


Actually, your honor, those were your numbers, driven by your finding that living in an adult home was discriminatory.


The state rejected the suggestion that it had done anything wrong.


What’s wrong with doing nothing?


There’s the metaphysical debate between outcomes and opportunity. 



The state offers a between process-based defense (using limited resources as best it can) and the judge expects an outcome-based solution (people housed according to the judge’s standards).  Each argument is unanswerable by the other, and neither is getting the housing units built, or the personalized service packages delivered.


“New York remains unequivocally committed to supporting adult home residents, which is why we are working tirelessly to meet the requirements of the settlement agreement,” the Department of Health wrote in a statement in response to a question.




‘Committed’ – What does that mean?  Is a wish a commitment?  And it’s undermined by the DoH adding ‘unequivocally’ (when is a commitment equivocal?) and ‘tirelessly’ (I doubt every relevant government official is working without sleep, weekends, or vacations).  Language like that went out in seventh grade.


Even before the hearing, however, advocates for the mentally ill said that the process for resettling residents was deeply flawed. 


Unequivocally, tirelessly


“Transition to community living has moved at a snail’s pace, leaving residents confused and frustrated. This is largely because the state has insisted on an inordinately complex process.”


‘Inordinately’?  How would you meet the consent-decree standard?


Officials from the New York State Office of Mental Health have five years to assess the most appropriate housing for each of the approximately 4,000 people living in group homes, with the assumption that residents should leave rather than stay.


Left unstated is what happen if a resident leaves a group home and then fails at independent living.  Is there a right to return?  Is the state held liable for failing to assure the residents’ successful transition to independence?  All this right-based policy exists in a judicial world where good will always prevails and failure proves lack of will or lack of good.


They must hire and train people to advise the residents of their options and help them decide.


And how do they decide?  If they are still in residence, have they decided to stay?  Or has the consent decree been reinterpreted after the fact to mean that all should leave and decide to leave only when they have envisioned independent homes to move into?  Who is responsible for creating such homes that meet the residents’ standards?


Bloody silver.  We won’t have it in the house.  And those candlesticks you got us last week were only sixteen carat.”


The state officials, however, said that the complex process was necessary in part to ensure that people who moved out of the homes were ready to live more independent lives without endangering themselves or others.


Right-based policy making is framed as right versus wrong, and worse, it is framed that if someone else is even a bit wrong, then I am right.  It adjudicates by storytelling and by what we wish could happen rather than what actually can happen.


Belle Harbor Manor: “A luxurious residence for senior citizens”


A couple of blocks from the beach, Ms. Vila’s new facility was much cleaner and safer than Milestone, but it was still not home.


There’s no place like home


‘Home’ – a place that Dorothy wanted to go.  A place that by Ms. Vila’s own telling no longer exists (fire damage). 


Ms. Vila says she feels safe in her home, but safe is not a life.


Home is a place with family and friends, from all of whom Ms. Vila is now ‘grown distant.’  Whose job is it to make new ones for her?


She misses her recliner chair, where she would sit with her cats and watch her favorite television programs. She misses cooking skirt steak and ordering takeout Chinese food. She misses hot chocolate heated up in her microwave and an occasional spoonful of ice cream at night. She misses buying cut flowers.


Though she misses these things, she’s not leaving:


The agreement included several provisions to prevent the owners from interfering with patients who are deciding whether to leave. Owners who violate the terms could face civil penalties or lose their operating certificates. 


Evidently Ms. Vila’s choice of accommodations comes down partly (principally?) to personal economics:


Like many others in the homes, Ms. Vila survives on disability benefits — $1,700 a month, in her case. 


Denied opportunity


Disability benefits, I presume, arose politically because the person was disabled through the results of accident or agency by another (as in a workplace accident).  Nowhere in Ms. Vila’s story is there evidence her disability was caused by another’s agency. 


Whose fault is the system?


She pays $1,500 to the adult home, which serves three meals a day. Breakfast is at 8 a.m., lunch is at noon and dinner is at 4:30 p.m.


Her condition has become an entitlement, and if it is rights-based, how then are the benefits to be limited?


She is left with $200 a month for everything else. After paying for her phone and cable, she has about $45 a month, which she uses to buy extra food.


Gaining control over her money — and by extension her life — was a big part of the reason she joined the lawsuit against the state.


I don’t understand; of what money is Ms. Vila being deprived?  <Snark off.>  I truly don’t know.


What is hers that is being withheld from her?


They’re mine now

The problem with rights: Part 4, Through four governors’ administrations

June 21, 2017 | Affordable Housing, Government, Homelessness, Housing, legal rights, Litigation, New York City, philosophy, rights, Subsidy, Supportive housing | No comments 48 views

By: David A. Smith


[Continued from the preceding Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.]


As we saw in the earlier Parts 1, 2, and (fortunately archived so you can return to them and catch up; see apologetic note below), rights-based policy driven by a GAIA story (inset box) is an unfortunately all-too-natural response.


I was sure I could handle this



Sources used and AHI major posts referenced in this post


Pro Publica (April 6, 2017), purple font

New York Times (April 14, 2017), black font

New York Times (July 23, 2013), caramel font

New York Times (June 24, 2010), burnt orange font

New York Times (April 28-30, 2002), dark green font


Hoarding and housing, February 12, 2009, 2 parts

New York’s self-reinforcing homelessness system, October 21, 2013, 3 parts

New York City’s homeless magnet, January 9, 2017, 3 parts, green shaded



It feels good – politically and socially – when it is enacted, but it also traps everyone involved in the new right – those who grant it judicially, those who expect it beneficially, and those who implement it administratively – in a system that can never succeed, can never relieve the tragedy, because it is built on finite resources and infinite need.


No matter how much I snap, the fleas multiply



The GAIA (God-Ain’t-It-Awful) cycle of urban policy


GAIA-based policy-by-judicial-mandate-of-rights typically proceeds in this sequence:


1.   Journalist writes a GAIA story, complete with pitiful victims and trigger photographs.

2.   Advocacy organization sues, claiming a general law has an expansive right.

3.   Suit becomes political, and political opponents of the defendant politician pile on,   saying more supervision required.

4.   Judge in dudgeon issues threatening orders.

5.   Consent decree.

6.   Advocacy group declares victory.  Offers extensive suggestions for implementation.  Government agency promises to move speedily. 

7.   Public and advocates lose interest, new stories arise to claim attention.

8.   Government agency motivation wanes, obstacles arise.

9.   Nothing substantive happens.  Situation grows slowly worse.  2-3 years pass.

10.   New journalist goes looking for story.  Return to Step 1.



The human stories are genuinely tragic, and yet when reading them, I cannot help but notice that families have a bond much more powerful than governments or systems, and when the family has abandoned a person, or when a person has lost a family and no new one has been found, then governments and systems work schizophrenically and unreliably, if they work at all.


In 2003, Disability Advocates, Inc.


GAIA Step 2. 


You sue the government here


– had filed a lawsuit, Disability Advocates v. Pataki (New York Gov. George Pataki), alleging that New York City adult homes, which housed former psychiatric hospital patients, lack the staff, resources or mandate to provide integrated housings and services to promote community living.


In a neat end run around the funding conundrum, the judge (see GAIA Step 4) found a way to rule for the plaintiffs by deciding the treatment was discriminatory on what frankly seems to me ridiculous reasoning:


Get a dudgeon order there


U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis ruled in 2009 that the state discriminated against more than 4,000 people with psychiatric disabilities in adult homes by not serving them in the most integrated setting (see MHW, Sept. 14, 2009).


That is, the judge decided that having a facility for only such people was discriminatory, in a Brown v. Board of Education sense, because psychiatric patients inferentially had a Constitutional right to be treated in a psychiatric facility that also included people who didn’t have such disabilities.



The Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires states to use their limited resources


Over time, that concept of ‘limited’ resources gives way to unlimited resources, because judges and advocates always expect and litigate that resources may be limited only by what it takes to achieve the right. 


Rights are not budgetary, and this is their weakness and their strength.


– to provide that people with mental illness be cared for in the least restrictive setting possible, and the agreement on Tuesday was the second attempt to bring the state into compliance.


And how does one decide what is the ‘least restrictive possible’ when the penalty for being wrong is another lawsuit from those who have neither responsibility to address the problem nor money to assist?


Man, we could do so much better than those guys


[The current New York] model remained in place despite strides the state has made to provide supported housing to other needy populations like the homeless.


‘Strides the state has made’ in housing the homeless?  Does the New York Times’ authors even read each other’s GAIA stories?



Posting update: trying yet again


Just returning from eight days in Mexico City (where I’d never been before), four of them co-teaching an executive education class, the next four on a vacation (which I’m told is a normal thing for people to take; how odd). 


Meanwhile the worlds of housing and finance continue to spin lurid tales. I want to post about the Grenfell disaster (a complex compound of human unaccountability all along the way), Italy’s rejection of the latest Euro-splint (who will bail out the bailers?), and more, and will try yet again to get back to a normal posting rhythm. 


Thanks for your patience!



The defendants – that is, the New York state and city government agencies providing housing and services to these people – challenged the advocacy group’s standing to sue, but they eventually lost:


– and after years of court battles, the state reached a settlement [GAIA Step 5] that called for residents with mental illness –


Consent decree here


As a result, under the court’s decision what had begun as a problem of mental illness was now a problem of housing first, treatment (if any) second – and as treatment was expensive, frustrating, and often unsuccessful, it likely got short-funded.


[1] To be moved out of the homes and

[2] Into supportive housing and

[3] Be given rental assistance and


A cynic would say that from the perspective of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, this was a great economic result and a wonderfully nice responsibility shuck: not only is the housing cost potentially out of their budget, the mentally ill become no longer a mental health issue:


[4] [Be given] access to community-based services that promote their inclusion, independence and full participation in community life.


‘Promote their inclusion, independence, and full participation’ are not the terms one would normally use to describe the recovery of a mentally ill person; they’re more evocative of someone who’s mentally stable, just indigent. 


As a formality, the Justice Department filed a complaint against the state and simultaneously filed the consent decree in Federal District Court in Brooklyn on Tuesday, and Ms. Spiegel and two other plaintiffs filed a class-action suit along with the decree. 


GAIA Step 6


Declare victory there


The agreement was signed by representatives from the Justice Department, the state and three advocacy groups, and is subject to the approval of Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis, who presided over the case through four governors’ administrations.


If the right-based policy has persisted unsuccessfully through the administration of four New York State governors, how can anyone think it is a success?  Or that in a fifth governor it will ever become a success? 


Last month, with the July deadline approaching, Judge Garaufis called all the parties into court for a hearing where, in blunt and caustic language, he warned that the state was “far from hitting its numbers.”


Each governor inherits the mess from his predecessor and bequeaths it to his successor, because if they have no other core skill, governors know how to read the electoral calendar.


Once I’ve got a firm grip on the squishy parts of this problem, I just squeeze ‘em until they comply: right, David?


The state was given five years to resettle 2,000 to 4,000 residents.


To the surprise of few, the state failed to meet the court-imposed deadline.


And you do nothing here …



Diana Vila, one of the plaintiffs in the case, is one of the thousands of people who still have not been resettled to supportive housing.  She entered the system more than a decade ago, when a fire forced her from her apartment in Sunnyside, Queens.


‘Entered the system’ is such a passively neutral explanation concealing so much.  Evidently Ms. Vila had no family:


Her mother, she said, was a victim of domestic abuse and had to escape to a shelter herself.


Or had separated herself from her family:


Ms. Vila had recently lost her job and was growing distant from the rest of her family and friends.


When reading such stories, we must assume that everything described is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  In my cynical experience, oral tales are polished in each retelling, and Pilate’s truth is lost in the mist of self-mythologizing, but Pilate gets a lot of down-thumbs on Twitter, so assume the tale.


She was already in a downward spiral, her depression worsening and her bipolar condition not properly medicated. 


Note how the framing exculpates Ms. Vila entirely, her problems the fault of a conveniently unnamed someone else who failed to provide proper medication.


With her apartment destroyed, she found herself in the hospital with no place to go.  As with thousands of other New Yorkers in desperate straits, she entered an adult home.


Nightmare in Queens? 

The Milestone property


Ms. Vila, 54, was first sent to a home in Queens called Milestone. She described the conditions there as being “like a nightmare.”


It’s all just hokes and penguins here


There were frequent fights [Passive voice again – Ed.], a staff ill-equipped to deal with people with mental illness, and general disarray.


We’ll have no disarray here


Or perhaps the adult home was given a responsibility or clientele for which it had no training, no staffing, and too little resources.  Lacking context, one does not know.


To escape the home, Ms. Vila would get herself hospitalized as often as she could.


While I applaud Ms. Vila’s enterprise, it shows a remarkable degree of rational agency to conceive a strategy to get oneself hospitalized, and then upgraded.


After a year, she was transferred to Belle Harbor Manor in the Rockaways.


“From The top Adult Care facilities in NY” [capitalization in original]


[Continued Friday in Part 5.]

The problem with rights: Part 3, Once considered a promising alternative

June 7, 2017 | Affordable Housing, Government, Homelessness, Housing, legal rights, Litigation, New York City, Subsidy, Supportive housing | No comments 63 views


By: David A. Smith


[Continued from yesterday’s Part 2 and the preceding Part 1.]


So far, in exploring the problem of rights-based urban policy, we’ve seen that:


1.     The assertion of a right-based mandate (Part 1) is fraught with cost peril, because a journo-genic anecdote is blown up into a GAIA statistic, which leads to a venue-shopped judge deciding that the government’s failure to alleviate a person’s condition is a violation of that person’s rights, and by extension the rights of the entire class of ‘similar persons’.


Publish, decry, fulminate, repeat


2.     Not content simply to mandate that an unfortunate or deplorable condition disappear, judges (who spend their time adjudicating belligerence) are prone to seeing policy in Manichaean terms (good versus evil), so as soon as the judge concludes one party (the plaintiff) isn’t evil, then the other one must be – and that party is placed in judicial purgatory, forced to return to court periodically to explain how it is doing what the judge decided it must do.


You see?  I knew you could do it


That is much easier ordered than completed, in part because people are smart, no matter how addled or how disadvantaged they may be, and they treat all encounters as crooked games, which they figure out faster than those who put together the complex system do. 


Sources used and AHI major posts referenced in this post


Pro Publica (April 6, 2017), purple font

New York Times (April 14, 2017), black font

New York Times (July 23, 2013), caramel font

New York Times (June 24, 2010), burnt orange font

New York Times (April 28-30, 2002), dark green font


Hoarding and housing, February 12, 2009, 2 parts

New York’s self-reinforcing homelessness system, October 21, 2013, 3 parts

New York City’s homeless magnet, January 9, 2017, 3 parts, green shaded


In the case of New York City, as I wrote back in January in Part 2 of New York City’s homeless magnet (text back-shaded),



2. Once housing has become a judicial mandate, homelessness is ‘rationally advantaged’


The city has become the sole provider and sole payer for homeless services.  (Proponents of mandatory national health care as an entitlement, take note of the ecosystemic implications.)


Part of the city’s challenge is that, unlike many other cities, New York has a right-to-shelter provision for everyone.


Thus the accession of rights to independent living (not an ‘adult home’) followed from the accession to earlier rights (no homelessness regardless of circumstances):



[Starting in the 1970s], thousands of homeless New Yorkers each year were forced to fend for themselves on the streets.


Homeless children sleeping, New York, 1890


Despite the coalition’s choosing to frame homelessness as a modern phenomenon, to the best of my knowledge it existed in New York ever since Gotham’s founding and was much worse in the late Gilded Age (cf. Jacob Riis photographs) – a consequence of rapid industrial urbanization. 


Actually, I speculate that the only reason homelessness went so little remarked in those times because so many of them simply died of disease, malnutrition, and exposure, and hence decreased the surplus population. 


The first to warn of population surplus


[Any readers who know of historical studies on this point, please email me! – Ed.]


No, it was only we Boomers with our tumultuous rights-based approach to every problem who brought New York its judicial mandate that the city house everyone who yearned to breathe free:



In 1979 the founders of Coalition for the Homeless brought a class action lawsuit called Callahan v. Carey against the City and State arguing that a constitutional right to shelter existed in New York.  [Narrative history on the Coalition for the Homeless web site (gray font).]


The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Robert Callahan, was a homeless Korean War veteran who had been sleeping on the street like many other men.


Note to policy makers: Beware the lawsuit whose plaintiff has been hand-picked for maximum optics.  Such legal tactics are often effective but can yield dubious outcomes where everybody loses.


In particular, the lawsuit pointed to Article XVII of the New York State Constitution, which declares that “the aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions….” 


That quote was selectively truncated, and the full text is this:


Section 1. The aid, care and support of the needy are public concerns and shall be provided by the state and by such of its subdivisions, and in such manner and by such means, as the legislature may from time to time determine. 


Both the manner of ‘aid, care, and support’ and the funding of such air, care and support are the prerogative of the legislature, not the judiciary, and undoubtedly that is how it was interpreted for the first forty years of its existence – until Callahan.


I quote this at length because it bears repeating: Judges have a habit of sweeping aside the economic consequences of their ‘finding of rights.’


Damn your whining about costs


Four or five decades of right-based judiciary are slowly bankrupting programs, cities, and even states:



New Jersey’s Mount Laurel decision, and Illinois’ pension-fund decision are two other examples of the judiciary usurping the power of the purse by creating unsatisfiable and therefore infinitely expandable mandates that other branches of government spend money to correct a problem the law has found the public has a right to demand be cured.  The expansive interpretation as root cause of a burgeoning unfunded mandate is a feature of both Mount Laurel and the Illinois pensions, which are bringing Illinois ever closer to state bankruptcy, as well as CalPERS’s bootstrap claim to inviolability – and because these decisions can result in sorcerer’s-apprentice uncontrollable and unsustainable costs, I have become progressively more skeptical of using the law in this way.  I think it’s bad policy and it’s certainly bad political economics.


Damn the cost, do it!


As we saw before, no matter how quickly the City of New York creates (expensive, substandard) supportive housing, the influx of people claiming it is faster:


More people, more people


The result is ever more properties, ever more people who can claim the judicial right, ever more grounds for a judge to find fault with the city:


The sprawling [Journalist trigger word alert! Implies connection and coordination and out-of-control blight.  – Ed.] network of privately run and state-regulated adult homes in New York City — once considered a promising alternative to the bleak psychiatric wards that the state began closing in the 1960s — began to face increased scrutiny for a host of abuses.


Again, with a right-based approach to a social or policy problem, there is a strong tendency to demand a rights-based perfect solution, and since a right-based solution has no price tag, the judiciary can order it on someone else’s credit card.  Then that imagined perfect solution runs up against challenges of scale – cost per customer, loss of touch per customer, inability to replicate ideal conditions everywhere – and everybody is back in the same place, only with a different unacceptable fact pattern, and the GAIA cycle begins all over again.


A 2002 investigation by The New York Times showed that many had “devolved into places of misery and neglect, just like the psychiatric institutions before them.”


For the benefit of low-information readers, the three Times 2002 articles were titled For Mentally Ill, Death and Misery, Here, Life Is Squalor and Chaos, and Voiceless, Defenseless, and a Source of Cash:


The miserable condition of adult homes for the mentally ill raises the most fundamental question: How could a system so broken remain in place for so long?


Always with us, not always housed at large


Actually, it wasn’t ‘so long’.  As this grim Mother Jones timeline makes clear, mental illness has always occurred in some people, and for most of urban history the mentally ill were housed in prison or in institutions (by 1955, it was 3% of the population), and starting in 1965 the mentally ill were ‘de-institutionalized,’ which may have done some of them good but also resulted in many of them being released into society and becoming homeless. 


Couple that with the rise of more potent psychotropic drugs – illegal and legal – and the shift to euphemistic terminology and you have the makings of a system that shuffles people from asylum to jail to shelter to street, even as it plays pass the buck. 


Who’s going to pay for my diabetes and schizophrenia treatments?


In 1981 the Federal government block-granted mental health funding to the states, and since then the states and cities have been batting the cost back and forth.  Everyone wants someone else to pay for it.


Lawsuits were filed [Passive voice, denying responsibility or human agency. – Ed.],


Note the GAIA sequence: Expose article, followed by legal-aid lawsuit.  In fact, the suits came within a year, in 2003:


No frivolous suits, please, this is serious business



[Continued tomorrow in Part 4.]

The problem with rights: Part 2, There was no secret plan

June 5, 2017 | Affordable Housing, Government, Homelessness, Housing, legal rights, Litigation, New York City, Subsidy, Supportive housing | No comments 58 views

By: David A. Smith


[Continued from Part 1, posted back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.]





The last four weekends in row were consumed with one or another AHI-related deadline assignment, and deadlines are the enemy of proper thoughtful blogging.  This weekend, finally, I have only half a deadline and can take up the keyboard once more J.


The previous Part 1 established that in April, the Cuomo Administration agreed to a new promise (to give 4,000 people living in adult homes the opportunity to move into their own subsidized apartments) as a substitute for the previously unfulfilled old promise (to move to move everybody out of ‘adult homes’). 


The development amounted to a remarkable moment in a case that began 15 years ago with a series of exposes in The New York Times.


Resident of Oceanview, from the Times 2002 series


This may remind you of Mr. Micawber’s restructuring with Tommy Traddles, where Micawber paid off his debt by giving Traddles his note of hand, “after which I may once more hold up my head among men,” and both looking pleased at the resolution:


I can rest easy knowing Mr. Micawber has assured me something will turn up


Nevertheless, stay tuned for what will doubtless be a further swap of promise for promise.


As a July deadline nears, a federal judge has found that the state seems far from meeting its commitment: Fewer than 500 people have actually been moved into supportive housing from adult homes.


I have told you to do this, now do it


As I’ve documented before, the de Blasio Administration has nowhere to move the people because it can’t actually create the supportive housing, funding be damned, because the neighbors of whichever location it selects rise up, erect political palisades, and then repel all assaults by elected officials who cannot afford either the time or the public-relations cost of an extended zoning siege.



Sources used and AHI major posts referenced in this post


Pro Publica (April 6, 2017), purple font

New York Times (April 14, 2017), black font

New York Times (July 23, 2013), caramel font

New York Times (June 24, 2010), burnt orange font


Hoarding and housing, February 12, 2009, 2 parts

New York’s self-reinforcing homelessness system, October 21, 2013, 3 parts

The homeless magnet, January 9, 2017, 3 parts


Knowing this, Mayor de Blasio, what are you going to do about it?


I’ll taunt them a second time


What the judge, Nicholas G. Garaufis of the [Federal] Eastern District of New York [All of NYC except Manhattan and the Bronx – Ed.]  found most troubling was that the state appeared to be working with the adult home industry to undermine the settlement.


Smelling the obnoxious odor of subversion?


The Department of Health had quietly reached [That’s a misstatement, see below – Ed.] an agreement with home operators in state court that would have short-circuited the execution of the federal settlement — without ever informing the federal court.


Checking further, I think the judge may have been slandering the Department of Health (though I suppose judges on the bench cannot technically slander):


“There’s some sort of a deal,” Garaufis said. “That’s how it appears.  And we’re going to find out exactly what the deal is, because if there is a deal, I would consider it a fraud on the court.”


Of course the Times couldn’t afford the column space to quote the record accurately, preferring to repeat the judge’s allocation (‘appears’) as a fact (‘had quietly reached).


A spokesman for the Department of Health said there was no secret plan, and that the state remained committed to meeting its obligations under the court order.


“Local multiplayer chaos” is a good operational description of municipal rights-based policy


Garaufis was alerted [By someone, presumably the legal advocates? – Ed.] to the idea that the state was working to undercut his order in February as the Department of Health prepared to update the court on its progress in relocating residents.  Garaufis said the scheme, as he saw it, involved efforts by the adult home industry to have critical regulations at the heart of the 2014 settlement effectively voided. The regulations limited the ability of home operators to accept [Or reject? – Ed.] new mentally ill residents.


Lacking further context or detail, it’s impossible to evaluate what’s being proposed here, though I’ll suggest a motivation a little further down.


In laying out the alleged secret deal, Garaufis said lawyers for the adult home operators had met with officials from the Department of Health, and that they basically worked together to have a state judge issue a temporary restraining order [TRO] governing the regulations. 


Perhaps the regulations were unworkable; perhaps they would have resulted in fewer people being housed in adult homes, and hence potentially homeless, which would have been worse. 


If the two parties who are closest to the problem have a shared view of the right course of action, and that view from that of parties far from the business (e.g. the judge, the legal advocates), which theory is more likely:


1.     It’s an insiders’ conspiracy to subvert the outsiders.

2.     The outsiders’ demands are impossible to fulfill.


Theory 1 is predicated on the belief that not only are the operators crooked, the state is likewise crooked.  Theory 2 depends on believing that the outsiders are talking through their hats.



A state court judge inferentially concluded Theory 2 was more plausible.


The action by the state judge, Kimberly A. O’Connor, triggered a provision in Garaufis’ order.


For me to sort out the legalities would require time I haven’t got and experience I probably lack, as well as dragging readers beyond the sensible bounds of a blog post [As if you’re never done that before! – Ed.].


I tell you I don’t want to read it!


Still, if the TRO was granted by a state court judge, she must have had a valid legal reason for doing so. 


“There’s some sort of a deal,” Judge Garaufis said. “That’s how it appears. And we’re going to find out exactly what the deal is, because if there is a deal, I would consider it a fraud on the court.”


Judge Garaufis’s involvement in the case traces back to its beginnings.


Ah, ha, thinks David.  That explains much.


From time to time, judges take over municipal matters because they become furious with the status quo and believe they are the avenging sword to cut through the knot.  In 1979, activist Boston Judge Paul G. Garrity put the Boston Housing Authority, into receivership, where it stayed for 11 years. 


Not afraid to use the power of the bench


In 1979 Los Angeles Judge Harry Pregerson arm-twisted an eminent-domain discrimination consent decree that led to the formation of Century Housing, which through highways and byways stayed under his consent decree until 2007.


Pregerson’s legacy?  The Judge Harry Pregerson interchange in Los Angeles


Judges, like bulldogs, find it hard to let go of autocratic control. 



For instance, here is the final paragraph of New York City’s Callahan decision:


19. Jurisdiction is retained by this Court for the purpose of enabling any of the parties to this Final Judgment to apply to this Court at any time for such further orders and directions as may be necessary or appropriate for the construction, modification, or termination of this entire judgment or of any applicable provisions thereof, for the enforcement of compliance therewith, and for the punishment of violations thereof.


Translation: Purgatory until I decide you’ve done enough.


As might be expected, when seeing themselves as Dennis Moore, judges also find it incredibly hard to manage by occasional eruptive dispute resolution.


Moore: Wait a tic… blimey, this redistribution of wealth is trickier than I thought.


[Continued tomorrow in Part 3.]