While the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is notifying city-contracted supportive housing providers of their requirements under the new law, the same isn’t happening for those contracted primarily through the state, despite the fact that the bill specified it would apply to “every provider” in the city.

David Brand

Supportive Housing Organized and United Tenants (SHOUT) members at a press conference at City Hall in November 2021.

A law designed to ensure residents living in the more than 35,000 supportive housing units across New York City can access information about their rights as tenants went into effect last week, but its rollout has been stymied by lack of coordination between the city and state agencies that administer the sprawling system, stakeholders and tenants say.

The City Council passed the supportive housing tenants’ bill of rights law at the end of last year, which requires providers of supportive housing—affordable units that come paired with support services for tenants, like access to mental health care or vocational training—provide all residents with written notice of their rights upon request, as well as during initial placement interviews and lease renewals.

The legislation was the result of advocacy by Supportive Housing Organized and United Tenants (SHOUT), a citywide tenants union that formed last year to push for improvements for supportive housing residents, many of whom have previously experienced homelessness.

The bill aimed to increase transparency and accountability across the supportive housing system, a patchwork network managed by scores of nonprofits and funded by dozens of city, state and federal programs—an arrangement that can make it hard for tenants to know what rights they’re entitled to or even who to turn to if problems arise.

That arrangement has also hampered roll out of the law itself, stakeholders say: While the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is notifying city-contracted supportive housing providers of their requirements under the new law, the same isn’t happening for those contracted primarily through the state, despite the fact that the bill specified it would apply to “every provider” in the city.

“The letter from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to housing providers in the city notes that the law pertains to ‘…housing programs in contract with NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene,'” a spokesperson for the New York State Office of Mental Health, which oversees state-contracted supportive housing providers, told City Limits in an email.

The spokesman noted that OMH supportive housing guidelines do require providers to give “explicit written tenant’s rights and grievance procedures to tenants upon enrollment in the Supportive Housing program.”

But advocates and SHOUT members say that isn’t the same as what’s required by the new city law, which specifies that providers must supply tenants with their bill of rights anytime they ask for it, and also includes enforcement, as providers that don’t comply can be subject to a $250 penalty.

When asked about the discrepancy, a spokesperson for the city’s DOHMH merely reiterated that “all city-contracted providers” have been notified about the new legislation. SHOUT members say that greatly undermines the purpose of the bill, since many New York City supportive housing tenants live in units contracted with the state. (The Supportive Housing Network of New York, which represents around 200 nonprofit providers across the city and state, declined to comment for this story.)

“The Tenants Bill of Rights legislation is such a light lift … We are confused as to why providers and the city and state agencies overseeing them can’t seem to get on the same page about something so simple and beneficial to tenants,” the tenants union said in a statement to City Limits.

“The legislation is very clearevery provider is required to provide a bill of rights to every tenant—and we will continue to do everything in our power to make sure all supportive housing providers comply with the law.”

In interviews with City Limits, two supportive housing tenants who asked not to be identified by name said they requested access to the bill of rights after the law went into effect last week, but that their providers weren’t aware of the new rules.

Under the legislation, supportive housing providers are supposed to supply tenants with a list of their basic rights under the law—that they are allowed to organize with other tenants, that they can call 311 to report housing problems or even something as simple as the fact that they’re entitled to a monthly rent receipt.

It also requires providers to supply information about the type of housing a tenant resides in, including whether the unit is rent-stabilized, if the property is entitled to government tax breaks as well as what state, federal or city agency administers their program.

The sprawling nature of the supportive housing network and the involvement of multiple government agencies makes obtaining that kind of basic information difficult, tenants say.

“The system is so convoluted, and it’s not at all transparent,” one SHOUT member, who asked not to be identified by name, told City Limits. “It is the wild west, and there’s no sheriff.”

While supportive housing has been touted by elected officials, including Mayor Eric Adams, as a key solution to the city’s ongoing homelessness crisis, the system can also be rife with problems, particularly for tenants in the 16,000 or so “scattered-site” supportive housing units, which are rented by nonprofit providers in privately-owned buildings.

Scattered-site contracts are greatly underfunded and fail to keep up with current market rents, tenants, providers and advocates say—meaning units are often found in deteriorating buildings owned by unresponsive landlords. Previous reporting by City Limits identified 22 buildings with scattered-site supportive housing units accounting for at least 1,702 open Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) code violations; At least three of those buildings were owned by property owners who’ve appeared on the Public Advocate’s annual “worst landlord list.”

READ MORE: Dilapidated Apartments, Lousy Landlords Plague NYC’s Sprawling ‘Scattered-Site’ Supportive Housing Network

That makes it even more vital for supportive housing tenants to know their rights, stakeholders say—and to increase accountability for both providers and building owners.

“I see this bill of rights too not only as important to the tenants, but also to the supportive housing providers, and knowing that there’s going to be some ramifications,” for those that fail meet required standards, one SHOUT member said. “It’s a starting point. It’s not a silver bullet, but certainly it’s a starting point.”