First Hand: Darryl Warner

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I’m a native New Yorker. I’m 47. I have some emotional problems so I live on disability checks. A few years ago, I was living in a cheap hotel in Harlem and the owner wanted tenants who paid more. So he told the police I was doing vandalism. He said I smashed elevator doors and threw paint down the stairs. He had me arrested three times for that and finally kicked me out. First I tried a few other SROs [single-room-occupancy hotels]. I was at one on 112th Street that was really, really bad. There was active drug use, people always hanging out in the lobby. The landlord brutalized residents. The building was kind of run down.

I tried looking around for another SRO, but there was nothing available. There just aren’t many left. There’s a consensus in this city that they need to get rid of the SROs. They say they bring down property values. But for guys like me, there’s nowhere else to go. It’s either this or homeless shelters or mental hospitals. And you don’t want to stay there: They’re very scary.

What’s also happened is that the SROs that are left in Manhattan have been taken over by organizations that provide special needs housing. I went to one of them that seemed nice. A woman said, “Mr. Warner, you’re not HIV positive, you’re not a hardcore drug and alcohol addict. You don’t fall in any of our categories. We can’t help you.”

It makes it very tough for someone who just wants a cheap private room. Places that used to be affordable, like Washington Heights and Hamilton Heights, the prices have gone through the roof. And there’s nothing new and affordable being built: All new housing is luxury housing. I’m on waiting lists for Mitchell-Lama housing and Section 8 vouchers, but it will be a long time. They’re very hard to get into.

I finally found this room way out here in the Rockaways. It’s the Siberia of New York City. I guess that’s where they put people like me. I pay $533 a month for a private room with a shower and a bath. It’s OK, but it could be better. The main thing is that the staff could do a lot more. This is supposed to be transitional housing, but they don’t pay much attention to us.

I talk to some of the others here about making improvements, or about organizing the tenants, but they won’t get involved. They’re afraid of being out on the street. There’s nowhere else to go.