The City Council passed a package of bills Wednesday afternoon aimed at curbing abuses at so-called “three-quarter houses,” which are unregulated boarding houses critics say prey on the some of the city’s most vulnerable.
Three-quarter homes provide housing to people with substance-abuse problems or mental illness, and are seen as somewhere between a regulated halfway house and permanent housing.
But critics say the operators of these properties, of which there are dozens if not hundreds throughout the city, force tenants to seek unnecessary substance-abuse counseling and medical treatment so that they can continue to receive public assistance that they then use to pay their rent.
In many cases, tenants have reported purposely relapsing or using drugs in order to keep their housing.
One bill, which would prohibit landlords from meddling in tenants’ medical treatment, is designed to prevent landlords from requiring tenants to visit specific substance-abuse programs or doctors. It would also create an avenue for tenants to take landlords who disobey the new regulation to Housing Court.
The bills would also require a city task force previously formed to investigate three-quarter houses to publicly report every three months on inspections. The legislative package also seeks to improve access to emergency relocation services and inform tenants on public assistance that they cannot be evicted without notice, even from three-quarter houses.
Bronx City Councilman Ritchie Torres, who sponsored two of the bills, called them a “game changer” that would clamp down on “predatory operators, whom I consider the scum of the earth.”
One of the city’s most notorious three-quarter-house operators, Yury Baumblit, was charged last year with Medicaid fraud and money laundering and faces up to 25 years in prison. [NYT] – Rich Bockmann