We started by renting apartments; now we develop our own housing. It’s a mix of affordable housing for low-income individuals and families, and supportive housing for people with histories of homelessness, many of whom are living with mental health issues. You can’t take someone living with serious mental health concerns and just put them in an apartment; you need to provide ongoing social services support. That is the “supportive” idea of supportive housing. Community Access was one of the pioneers of this model.
We are also dedicated to housing our supportive tenants as part of the community. For instance, 1861 Carter [the development that BlueHub has helped finance] will have 163 units, of which 90 will be supportive housing and the other 73 will be affordable housing for families.
Integrated supportive housing works because it removes the stigma around people living with mental health issues. Everyone has mental health issues; it’s just a question of degree.
We develop and operate multilevel apartment buildings just like any others in New York City. But we also staff an onsite office with our own service coordinators who run the social services programs to support the tenants. They provide some direct counseling, but primarily they provide linkages to services outside the building — making sure people get to their psychiatrist, their primary care doctors, their treatments. We make it very clear to all the tenants that our staff is available to everyone. Some of our tenants who weren’t defined as part of a supportive population — but who are having a tough time — come sit down with our social workers. We think that is great. As a provider of housing we want to treat everyone equally — both as a tenant and as a person.
New York’s current homeless crisis can be traced back forty years to a state supreme court decision that mandated the release of individuals held in psychiatric institutions against their will. That decision was a great civil rights victory, but no one had thought through how these folks would be housed. The founders of Community Access, some of whom had relatives or friends who were de-institutionalized, began leasing apartments on the lower east side of Manhattan.
Right now, there are more than 70,000 people in New York City’s shelter system. The goal of affordable housing today — of which supportive housing is a subset — is to get folks out of those shelters for good.