Over the last three years, NYC has seen its homeless population swell to record numbers. There are now an estimated 60,000 homeless people living in the city – the highest total ever recorded.

The problem is so out of hand, NYC has been using taxpayer money to rent out spaces in hotels serving as makeshift shelters. Understand, beyond preconceived notions of what homelessness looks like, this total includes evicted families, people who’ve fallen on hard times, and, yes, the drug-addicted and/or mentally challenged.

Knowing the issues the city faces, it’s vital we take a deeper look into the matter and ask ourselves – what is causing these intense spikes? Think of this: in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, 1,600 families have been evicted in the Ebbets Field area to make way for new private developments. Public land is extremely scarce, yet, developers have always seemed to have the right magic to continuously end up with the deed to the land.

Spilling the truth

Last week, a good friend of mine, Natelege Whaley, shared a video on Facebook which featured Assemblywoman Diana Richardson at the steps of the capitol building in Albany. She took 20 whole minutes out of her day, on Facebook Live no less, to break down just how our politicians have used their office to facilitate the demise of their own neighborhoods. She referenced Crown Heights and the fact that for years constituents of the neighborhood have requested for the addition of a new rec center along with affordable housing so that gentrification’s rate of tearing through their neighborhood, due to increased rents, can be mitigated.

The community members have made it clear they don’t want homeless shelters, they want affordable housing options so that people don’t end up on the streets, or pushed out of the neighborhood they once called home. They’re not saying homeless shelters are bad, they’re are simply frustrated by the abundance of shelters in Crown Heights already, coupled with the fact that NYC presides over 275 shelters across the city, currently.

Understanding the feelings of the residents, one would think that any deal in place taking up more public land in exchange for private condos or apartments would be shot down viciously by the politicians who represent the affected areas. This certainly hasn’t been the case.

Using The Bedford-Union Armory as the focus of this think piece, I want to point out a couple things Assemblywoman Richardson highlighted:

  • The city is in discussions to allow developers to renovate the Armory in order to build 58 $1 million condos (luxury living)
  • The new housing proposed is unaffordable to the current Crown Heights residents
  • Over the years, the residents have lost their local bowling alley and skating rink, which is why they
  • desire a new rec center to keep their kids engaged and away from mischief
  • Knowing NYC is facing a severe homelessness crisis, how can the city take the 138,000 sq ft Bedford-Union Armory and make it into luxury housing?
  • Instead of making more affordable housing, the city has elected to create 90 new shelters across NYC
  • Where is the actual affordable housing plan?

In the pockets of our representatives

Each point Natelege Whaley touched on was so brilliantly accurate, it’s hard to argue against her. The problem we’re seeing play out is one of the key issues with our politics in America today. Our elected officials are required to raise money in order to promote their agendas and platforms to the masses. Without capital, it’s very hard to get the word out.

Historically, real estate developers have been some of the largest campaign backers. A Real Estate developers’ thought process is simple – when they give a politician $50,000, etc. they are not doing so because they’re supporting a friend. They’re doing it because they are making an investment that ensures their seat at the table when public land is issued, zoning adjustments are made, and new city projects come to the forefront. This, often times, leaves the winning politician at odds with the desires of the constituency they represent.

Let’s quickly jump back to the Crown Heights situation. Assemblywoman Richardson calls out fellow council members, pushing for us to check their financial filings because a conflict of interest arises when you have private developer money funding your campaign.

More shelters are not the answer

With all the talk around the 90 shelters being opened up, realize, altogether, they’d only put a 2,500-person dent in the 60,000 number of homeless people over the next three years. Not only does this clearly not address the city’s crisis, it’s operation and the rollout has been mired with calls of institutional racism. For example, it’s not lost upon residents that three of the first five shelters have been built in Crown Heights.

The city claims this is because they want to keep the homeless population close to their original neighborhoods; but, that said, folks have questioned if the city followed the Fair Share guidelines which command for the equal distribution of public facilities. Community leaders have even rhetorically asked if more shelters are in the works for pricier areas like Park Slope or Carroll Gardens. 

The cause of the crisis

I opened up this article by essentially asking ‘what’s causing the crisis that we see in front of us today?’ If you’ve been reading closely, the answer has been revealed to you. By actively contributing or by inactively standing by while development has run wild, the city has directly caused the record spike in homelessness in which it’s facing. If elected officials went to bat for their constituents with the same vigor as when they campaign, these issues would be lessened.

Now, here we sit in 2017, with a 90 shelter homeless plan, which keeps getting blocked by local rulings. This, my friends, was supposed to be the city’s solution to the very problem they helped create.

Written By

Ofo Ezeugwu (@ofoezeugwu) is the CEO & Chieftain of WhoseYourLandlord. He graduated from Temple University (shout out to N. Philly!), where he was the VP of the student body and also the university's youngest alumni convocation speaker ever. He's a Techstars'​ Risingstar, one of BET's #30Under30, a Black Enterprise: Modern Man, and his work has been featured in Newsweek, TechCrunch, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, MSNBC, and more. Ofo is based in NYC/PHL and is also a professional actor and model who's walked in NYFW, been featured on the Today Show six times, and worked with Nike, ESPN, and Alfani. Ofo is also very actively plugged into the community and speaks with local high schools and middle schools on leadership, college planning, entrepreneurship, and life skills. He's a Big in the Big Brothers Big Sisters entrepreneurial program. And, he's also spoken on tech - entrepreneurship - and leadership at prestigious universities and institutions such as The White House, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Penn, Temple, Villanova, etc. He lives by the motto, "No steps backward; just forward progress."