Three-Quarter Houses are one- and two-family houses that rent shared rooms to homeless people for profit and claim to provide supportive and other services. These unlicensed facilities have proliferated in New York City and are concentrated in central Brooklyn. Originally fed by a flood of referrals from the city shelter system, operators now also recruit tenants leaving hospital psychiatric and substance abuse units, and prisons, by promising support services and assistance with finding permanent housing.
Instead of services, however, tenants are packed into overcrowded sleeping rooms in houses that often have serious building violations and hazardous conditions. Operators often require residents to attend off-site substance abuse programs regardless of their individual treatment needs, and most are forced to vacate the premises during the day, even if they have nowhere else to go. Tenants who complain about conditions, refuse to “comply” with forced treatment, or who have completed an outpatient program but have received no help to find permanent housing, are often unlawfully evicted. Most tenants receive public assistance and their rent is paid directly to operators by the city’s Human Resources Administration. Because so many people are crowded into each house, operators are able to profiteer from running an illegal boarding house, bringing in multiple rental payments for small units.
MFY’s Three-Quarter House Project, begun in September 2009, provides advice, counsel and representation to residents on housing and related legal matters and conducts workshops for residents on their rights (Three-Quarter House Residents: Know Your Rights). In collaboration with Neighbors Together, a community-based organization in Brownsville, MFY organized the Three-Quarter House Organizing Project (TOP), a coalition of residents that advocates for improved conditions and better services for residents. In addition to dozens of cases on behalf of individual residents, in December 2010 the project filed a class action lawsuit against an operator for deceptive practices and violations of housing law while TOP organized a rally to bring attention to the problems in houses run by this operator. On February 9, 2011, Judge David Vaughan in Kings County Supreme Court certified the case as a class action and enjoined defendants from host of actions while the case proceeds.
The project receives support from the New York Community Trust and the New York Foundation.