Three-quarter homes were conceived as a transition between halfway houses and fully independent residential living. They are not subject to licensing in New York City, however, allowing property owners to take liberties.
Legislation signed into law last month has added protections for tenants of three-quarter housing in the city, but more work needs to be done to curb abuses by landlords, says Matthew Main, a staff attorney with MFY Legal Services in New York.
After New York City Council approved five bills to protect three-quarter house tenants by a 47-0 vote, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed each into law on Feb. 15. One of the most notable laws passed prohibits landlords from being able to require any kind of medical treatment as a condition for housing. In the past, unscrupulous landlords have funneled tenants into substance abuse treatment—whether they have a substance use disorder or not—and have likely recieved kickbacks for doing so. Moreover, tenants who had completed treatment were often sent back, says Main, who works on the three-quarter housing project at MFY Legal Services, a not-for-profit organization that provides legal services to low-income residents in New York.
“After six or nine months, Medicaid reimburses at a lower rate because the service that’s required for someone who has successfully completed that amount of treatment lowers,” Main tells Behavioral Healthcare Executive. “That is when landlords tend to kick people out of three-quarter houses and say they have to leave."
Tenants in many cases don’t have anywhere else to go. That’s when the landlord might make an unsavory proposal suggesting the tenant should claim to relapse and stay in the housing. With the (real or alleged) higher need for care, the Medicaid reimbursement stays at the higher rate, "and the person can continue to go to treatment five days a week, getting the services reimbursed, presumably allowing kickbacks to continue,” he says.
Other changes resulting from the legislation signed by de Blasio include:
- In the case of three-quarter houses deemed uninhabitable, tenants entitled to relocation services will now have more options for documentation of residence, such as affidavits from fellow tenants or letters from service providers. As Main explains, many tenants do not have state identification cards that list the three-quarter house address as their residence because they view it as temporary housing. Plus, because the properties frequently have several times the number of tenants for which the buildings are approved, landlords are likely to not sign off on documentation confirming residence.
- The 90-day window for applying for relocation services has been removed, helping tenants in situations in which they were misled or deceived by landlords regarding their rights to relocation.
- The city’s human resources administration will publish and distribute know-your-rights fliers to all residents receiving public assistance.
Main characterizes the new laws as “important incremental steps” toward improving the lives of those in three-quarter housing, particularly those who have been put in the untenable position of being left to choose between prioritizing housing or their sobriety.
“Forced treatment is a component of the business model that is the most oppressive for residents,” he says.
Out of options
Still, there is the potential for more progress in terms of addressing low-income housing options overall, Main says. Substance use treatment has become a de facto temporary housing for low-income individuals, Main says, and people who are not in a position to secure safe, stable housing find themselves in licensed drug treatment programs not strictly because they are seeking treatment, but because they are otherwise out of options for housing.
“For people who are living in those facilities, the state has taken the position they are patients and not tenants, and so the state has said those people can be kicked out without court process,” Main says. “We think that type of willful blindness to what’s really happening and to the desperate need for stable housing is putting people who may be at risk of relapse into a much higher risk of relapse when they’re putting them into homelessness.”
Main advocates revisiting the possibility for housing models that embrace harm reduction principles and recognize that recovery is an individualized process that affects people in a number of ways.
“People go at many different paces, and it shouldn’t be a punitive approach where people are literally punished for relapse,” he says.