As the city faces increasing pressure to expand its shelter system, it is turning to vacant hotels for those who need a roof and a place to burn.
NEW YORK – The historic Roosevelt Hotel in midtown Manhattan closed three years ago, but it will soon be revitalized — reopening to accommodate an expected influx of asylum seekers, just as other New York hotels are being converted into shelters for emergency care.
Mayor Eric Adams announced Saturday that the city will use Roosevelt to eventually provide up to 1,000 rooms for migrants expected to arrive in the coming weeks due to expiration of pandemic period rulesknown collectively as Section 42, which allowed federal officials turn away asylum seekers from the US-Mexico border.
Across the city, hotels like the Roosevelt, which served tourists just a few years ago, are being converted into emergency shelters, many in prime locations within walking distance of Times Square, the World Trade Center Memorial and the Empire State Building. . The legal mandate requires the city to provide shelter to all who need it.
Despite this, Adams says the city does not have enough space for migrants and has appealed to the state and federal governments for financial help.
“New York City currently cares for more than 65,000 people seeking asylum – already opening more than 140 emergency shelters and eight large-scale humanitarian assistance centers in addition to this – to deal with this national crisis,” the mayor said in a statement announcing Roosevelt. the solution.
The rooftop hotel near Grand Central Station served as the campaign headquarters of New York Governor Thomas Dewey, who in 1948 mistakenly announced from Roosevelt that he had defeated Harry Truman in the presidential election.
Like a city faces increasing pressure to expand its asylum system, he turns to vacant hotels for those who need a roof and a place to burn as they get their lives back on track. One of them is the Holiday Inn, located in the financial district of Manhattan. A few months ago, signs in the lobby windows of the 50-story, 500-room hotel said it was closed.
Scott Markowitz of Tarter Krinsky & Drogin, an attorney for the hotel’s owner, said reopening as a city-sponsored shelter makes financial sense.
“They rent out every room in the hotel for a certain price every night,” Markowitz said, adding that it brings in “a lot more revenue” than a normal operation would.
It’s not news for the city to turn to hotels for homeless New Yorkers when shelters and other options have not been available.
During the pandemic, group shelters made it difficult to enforce social distancing rules, prompting the city to rent out hundreds of hotel rooms as quasi-Covid-wards. As the pandemic eased, the city became less dependent on hotels.
That all changed when thousands of migrants started arriving by bus last year.
The Watson Hotel on West 57th Street, once praised for its rooftop pool and proximity to Central Park, is now being used to house migrant families.
“It is our moral and legal obligation to provide shelter to all who need it,” the city’s Department of Social Services said in a statement. “As such, we have used and will continue to use every tool at our disposal to meet the needs of every family and individual who comes to us seeking asylum.”
Before the surge in asylum seekers, the city was dealing with increased homelessness, overcrowded shelters and a shortage of affordable housing. New York even announced plan to send hundreds of migrants at a hotel in suburban Orange and Rockland counties across the Hudson River, drawing the ire of local leaders.
Vijay Dandapani, president and CEO of the Hotel Association of New York, said the city needs to find long-term solutions.
“Hotels are not the answer to these situations,” he said, adding that the optics create problems for taxpayers who may think migrants are living in luxury at their expense.
But some homeless advocates say private hotel rooms are a better option than the barracks-style housing the city typically offers.
Cassie Keith, 55, one of the city’s homeless residents, welcomed the hotel’s location.
“Having your own room gives you peace of mind,” Keith said. “I can go to sleep with both eyes closed, you don’t have to keep one eye open.”
Earlier this year, dozens of migrants staged a protest after being kicked out of hotel rooms and forced to barracks set up at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, which has poor access to public transport. They complained about the cold, lack of privacy and lack of bathrooms.
The Roosevelt Hotel will open for the first time this week as a drop-in center offering legal and medical information and resources, officials said. It will also open 175 rooms for families with children, and then expand the number of rooms to 850. The city said another 150 rooms will be available for other asylum seekers.
“When you offer people something like a hotel room, you’re much more likely to get a positive response,” said David Giffen, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, adding that the rooms provide “privacy and dignity.”
But Giffen said the hotels won’t solve the larger problem of a lack of affordable permanent housing.
“What’s behind all of this is that we have such a failed housing system that lower-income people end up using the shelter system as their de facto housing system,” he said. “And then the shelter system doesn’t have enough beds, so we use hotels as a de facto shelter system.”