A dirty word that's not a dirty word at all: 'transitional'


On a single night in January last year, 86,352 people had no home to go to in New York. Only California was higher with 118,142.

But that study from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, offered a huge ray of hope: Of those tens of thousands of people, only 3,500 of them — 4.2 percent — didn’t have some place to stay.

It was one of the best sheltering rates in the country. Somehow, the great people of New York found a roof, blankets and maybe even a meal for 82,000 people. 

That’s extraordinary. But it’s not enough. 

Last week’s land use committee meeting seemed to create a consensus among members of Community Board 8: Make the shelter at 5731 Broadway permanent housing for homeless families, or don’t do it at all.

The word “transitional” just won’t fly for them, even after city homeless services deputy commissioner Jackie Bray explained the average stay in such transitional housing was one year. And one year, by the way, is a typical length for a lease — something one might have expected in a market-rate apartment.

CB8 would have you believe the city should just pay for a family to have housing until the end of time. But that doesn’t work — and for good reason.

First, there are new people coming into the system all the time, seeking help, and a home. If DHS were handing out free apartments for life, where would that end? What would the cost be to taxpayers then?

Second, the goal for services provided by agencies like DHS is not to give hand-outs — it’s to lend a hand, to get these members of our community back on their feet. And even better, to help them become independent.

Not a single CB8 member last Thursday asked where these families go once they transition out of such facilities. While some may end up caught back in the system, many more are able to secure their own apartments and get back on their feet. 

Isn’t that what we, as a community and a humane society, want? To follow the old adage of teaching a man how to fish? This is a system to help struggling families regain their independence. And we need to stop considering “transitional” such a terrible word ... it isn’t.

One other thing really concerned us about Thursday’s meeting. Land use committee chair Charles Moerdler is a well-respected member of this community, and his bulldog attitude toward developers — who might not always have the best interests of this community at heart — is something rightfully celebrated.

However, that approach can’t then extend to the very community he was appointed to represent.

The board has unlimited time to speak and share opinions. The community does not. So when it’s time for the community to speak, that means it’s time for the board — especially the chair — to not. 

Public comment isn’t a debate, it isn’t a challenge. It’s a time to do something every CB8 member must do — Listen.

We respect CB8 leadership, but those leaders need to respect the community.