Blog # 22 Vacant Housing and Sandy

Vacant Housing and Sandy: a Proposal

It is an abomination to have people desperately in need of housing, both emergency after Sandy and long-term, at the same time that there is a stock of vacant, good quality, accessible housing being held off the market because its owner believes that the market will improve and he/she/it will make more money by waiting to make it available.

The City’s official Housing and Vacancy Survey , undertaken by the Bureau of the Census, lists 68,031, rental units vacant and available, and 31,000vacant units available for sale. Picture the Homeless’s count of vacant buildings in 1/3 of the city calculated that 3,551 vacant buildings in could house 71,707 people.2

At the same time, somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 families are in need of shelter because of Sandy, according to the Mayor.3 Public housing residents were particularly hard hit.4

Proposal: A city ordinance that would require any person or firm controlling the occupancy of a housing unit that has been held vacant for more than 6 months to file a report with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development providing the address of the unit, its condition, the length of the vacancy, and the reason for the vacancy. If the Mayor declares a Housing Emergency based on a finding of substantial displacement caused by conditions affecting the housing stock, HPD would be directed to examine all vacancy filings and would be authorized to take control of, commandeer, any unit it finds for the purpose of providing emergency shelter to a household in need thereof because of the emergency, and facilitate its use for the purpose of providing emergency shelter.5

Since the use of such a unit does not cause any loss of income to its owner, being vacant when put to such emergency use, the owner would only be compensated for it use after the end of the emergency and after the displacee has found other adequate accommodations, and any additional costs to the landlord would be shared between the city and the displace, based on ability to pay.

Such an ordinance might also have the desirable side effect of discouraging the warehousing of vacant units awaiting a more profit-producing market, when there is general housing need and restricted housing availability.

The ordinance might also be framed to make mortgage foreclosed properties, if REO and held vacant by the mortgage-holder, subject to commandeering for emergency housing. This might again have the side effect of making mortgagees less prone to foreclose.

1. “In 2011, the number of vacant available rental units was 68,000, while the number of
vacant units available for sale was 31,000. At the same time, the number of vacant
units not available for sale or rent was 164,000 in 2011, the highest since 1965, when
the first HVS was conducted (Table 1).” Selected Initial Findings of the 2011 New York City
Housing and Vacancy Survey, Prepared by Dr. Moon Wha Lee
Assistant Commissioner for Housing Policy Analysis and Statistical Research
New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development
February 9, 2012, available at
2. Banking on Vacancy: Homelessness and Real Estate Speculation. A Report by Picture the Homeless, p. 19. See also: Community Voices Heard, A Count of Vacant Condos in Select New York City Neighborhood, Right to the City Alliance, 2010.
4. Community
6. HPD would further be authorized to investigate the circumstances of any vacancy called to its attention as potentially available for purposes of the law, including information from groups such as Picture the Homeless, Community Voices Heard, public housing or other tenant organizations, and if it find that they should have been listed and are shown to be appropriate for purposes of the law, to also take control of them for those purposes.