What to Know
An I-Team analysis found the de Blasio administration pays a premium for hotel reservations for homeless families
The standard rate for a walk-in guest at one hotel the I-Team visited was $145; for a homeless family, it's $190
I-Team compared a sample of 171 reservations booked by the city with online ads targeting tourists; 2/3 of the time, there was a disparity
When New York City books a hotel room for a homeless family, the room rate is often higher than the price advertised to tourists and business travelers online, an I-Team investigation has found. And there's no bulk reservation discount for the city either.
An I-Team investigation found the de Blasio administration often pays a premium for hotel reservations, even though the city reserves blocks of up to 70 rooms -- for months on end.
At the Par Central Motor Inn in Jamaica, the standard rate for a single walk-in guest is $145 a night. Although New York City routinely reserves more than half of the building, the hotel charges $190 a night for each homeless family.
That amounts to a $45 premium tacked onto the bill –- just for being homeless.
"You’ve uncovered a two-tier system," said New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. "A system for homeless hotel rooms and another rate, a cheaper rate, for everyone else. This makes absolutely no sense."
When asked why the Par Central Motor Inn doesn’t offer a discount, given that the city books so many rooms, a man at the reception desk shrugged his shoulders and said, "No discount. Who’s going to give a discount?"
The Par Central isn’t the only hotel where rooms for the homeless cost more than rooms for everyone else.
The I-Team compared a sample of 171 hotel reservations booked by the NYC Department of Homeless Services with prices for the same rooms advertised to tourists and business travelers on websites like Hotels.com, Priceline.com, ChoiceHotels.com and Expedia. Two thirds of the time, the room rates offered online were cheaper than the rates the city paid to house homeless families.
Stringer, who has been a persistent critic of City Hall homeless policy, said the I-Team analysis proves the de Blasio administration must do more to control costs.
"The agencies should be doing exactly what you did in your reporting," Stringer said. "They should be walking in and saying, 'Wait a minute, we're getting ripped off here.'"
Jaclyn Rothenberg, a City Hall spokeswoman, declined to explain why the de Blasio administration often pays more than the online room rates advertised to tourists and business travelers. In a statement to the I-Team, she suggested critics of City Hall are late to the issue.
"The comptroller is behind the curve," Rothenberg said. "We announced as part of our plan that we will be ending the use of hotels by opening a smaller number of better shelters across the five boroughs."
In February, Mayor de Blasio did announce a plan to stop using hotels and build a network of more traditional homeless shelters. But de Blasio’s plan doesn’t fully phase out hotels for another six years.
Isaac McGinn, a spokesman for the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) said while the city waits for the new shelter facilities to come online, efforts are underway to control hotel costs. Specifically, last December, the city launched a search for vendors who can negotiate cheaper, flat-rate prices for 3,900 hotel rooms. McGinn said the city is currently evaluating proposals.
Meanwhile, the cost continues to increase. Earlier this month, Stringer issued an updated report detailing a surge in hotel expenditures from nearly $400,000 a night to more than $500,000 a night.
According to the 2016 credit card records obtained by the I-Team, DHS spent more than $72 million on hotel bookings for the homeless in 2016.
"We’re buying thousands of rooms per night. We should be getting a better deal than the average person because we’re filling up those hotels," said Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who has also been a persistent critic of de Blasio’s reliance on hotels to house the homeless.
It is difficult to estimate exactly how much the city could have saved by reserving hotel rooms at online prices. But a few examples suggest the savings could add up.
- At one Howard Johnson in Queens, DHS booked blocks of rooms on 253 nights last year. At a rate of $179 a night, the bookings cost taxpayers $647,000. But the I-Team found cheaper rates that would have cost just more than $475,000, a savings of more than $170,000.
- At one Queens Comfort Inn, DHS booked a block of 70 rooms on 53 different nights last year. Taxpayers paid a room rate of $220 for each room, resulting in a cost of $816,000. But the I-Team found cheaper rates totaling about $754,000, a potential savings of nearly $62,000.
- At a Lower East Side Comfort Inn, DHS booked blocks of 44 to 47 rooms on 116 different nights last year. At a rate of $225 a night, that cost taxpayers almost $297,000. But the I-Team found cheaper rates totaling about $282,000, which would have saved more than $14,000.
The I-Team reached out to the Howard Johnson, Queens Comfort and Lower East Side Comfort inns for comment. They did not immediately respond.
The potential savings would be even higher –- considering all the online rates identified by the I-Team include taxes. DHS does not pay sales or room tax when booking hotel reservations.
Homeless residents who live in pricey hotel rooms told the I-Team they are disappointed the city isn’t getting better rates because the savings could pay for better services -– or more investments in long-term affordable housing.
"If you were to book a convention at a hotel, you'd get a deal if you booked 20 rooms. So why wouldn't the city be doing that?" said Al, a homeless delivery professional who’s been living in a city-funded hotel room for a month. He's also a member of Picture the Homeless, a grassroots organization pushing de Blasio to make bigger investments in affordable housing rather than pay for hotels or even permanent shelters.
"It doesn’t address the bigger issue of affordable permanent housing," he said using the hotels.
Bella De Lisi, Michael Fuller, Casey Murphy, and Sophie Nieto-Munoz contributed to this report.