How Manhattan Hotels Became Refuges for Thousands of Migrants

Just steps from Times Square and surrounded by Broadway theaters, the Row NYC hotel bills itself as “New York over New York,” bringing together “urban grandeur.”

But for months, it became the center of a humanitarian crisis.

It is one of about 100 hotels and other facilities, ranging from iconic skyscrapers to modest airport motels, that the city has converted into temporary accommodation for some of its residents. some 50,000 migrants have arrived by bus from the southern border since last spring. The effort could eventually cost up to $4 billion over the next two years and could lead to cuts to city services, the mayor has warned. For migrants, housing, although sometimes imperfect, offers a welcome respite as they begin their search for a new life in a frenetic city.

And that’s something that benefits hotels, which have suffered as the city tries to boost its economy as it emerges from the pandemic. Contracts obtained through Freedom of Information Law requirements and a recent report from Comptroller’s office Brad Lander provides new insight into how hotel and even office building owners profit from conversions.

In October, the city signed a $40 million deal to buy back the 1,300-room Row through mid-April; it is the first of several hotels in Midtown that are currently only open to immigrant families. On a recent afternoon, parents and children gathered at the entrance to 8th Avenue.

Margarita Buenaño, 43, from Ecuador, was among those outside. She is living in Row with her 10-year-old son and has taken on a job cleaning the house. Like thousands of others, they hiked through the perilous Darién Gap, the forest connecting Colombia and Panama, and continued north until they reached Texas. When asked if the risk was worth it, she paused.

“It will be worth it,” she said. “We are fighting for our dreams.”

The majority of shelter operations at hotels around the city are run by nonprofits contracted by the Department of Homeless Services. But some of the newest facilities, including four in Midtown, are being operated directly by the public health system, NYC Health & Hospitals, with support from the state’s Office of Emergency Management. city ​​and other agencies.

The nine facilities, known as Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Centers, or HERRCs, are more expensive to operate than normal shelters because of how quickly they have to be set up and the services they provide. they provide.

They provide on-site medical screening, advice and help with travel arrangements to other destinations. The mayor ordered them to be created when he announced State of emergency in October, argued that the sudden arrival of so many had created an unprecedented crisis.

At one point, emergency shelters including barracks-style tents set up at Randalls Island and a marina in Red Hook, will close this month. shelters evoke objections from elected officials and advocates, who say moving migrants is “callous” and say the city should use hotels, rather than makeshift structures in places remote, prone to floods. Those facilities housed adult men, while families were housed in hotel rooms.

The city got creative when it came to trying to find space to accommodate the migrants. It signed a $3.2 million contract in January to begin using the cruise terminal with its operator, Ports America, to house migrants. The station will return to its original use when the summer tourist season begins.

Two new shelters will open in April and will accommodate men already living in the cruise terminal, which houses 1,000 cots.

One of the new shelters will be in an office building at 455 Jefferson Street, on the border of Bushwick and East Williamsburg, billed as an “inspirational office space,” under a contract for about approx. $360,000 a month. It is expected to have 400 cots and spaces for medical and legal services and a cafeteria.

Another converted office will be in Times Square, in the Candler Building, an architecturally significant skyscraper built in the early 1900s by the founder of the Coca-Cola Company. Until the pandemic, the building housed a McDonald’s. The cost of that contract has not been disclosed.

Michael Chukwuemeka, 30, a Nigerian asylum seeker living in the marina, says he is among 250 men who will move into the Candler Building in the coming days. He was relieved to know he was going to Times Square, the center of it all, in contrast to the industrial waterfront of Brooklyn.

“I’m so excited,” he said as he took the bus back to Red Hook from his job search on Wednesday. “It’s a better place than before.”

Both the Candler Building and the Watson Hotel on West 57th Street, another emergency shelter where migrants camp to protest the move to the cruise terminal earlier this year, owned by the private equity firm Yellowstone.

The full calculation of the myriad costs associated with housing migrants and providing services to them has not yet been released by the city, and hotel room rates are adjusted from most public contracts. . But the information that has been revealed helps explain how the price tag climbs to the billions so quickly.

Many hotel rooms are being paid for through a major contract with the New York City Foundation Hotel Association, which signed a $237 million deal beginning in September. Hotels were hit hard during the pandemic as tourism came to a standstill; Visitors are returning, but occupancy is still down 10% from 2019, according to a January report from the hotel data company STR.

A separate contract, for the purchase of the 611-room Stewart hotel next to Madison Square Garden, listed room rates at $200 a night to use it as a shelter. When all rooms are available, the monthly payment is estimated at $3.6 million.

The contract includes requirements such as daily room cleaning, new sheets and towels once a week or as needed, and monthly exterminators.

Hotels appear to employ the same staff, although they sometimes involve social workers, interpreters and National Guard members. Row is listed as a union establishment on the hotel association’s website, and Rich Maroko, chairman of the Board of Hotels & Games Deals, is among officials who have hailed the announcement that it will be used used as a shelter for migrants.

“As an association representing thousands of immigrants providing professional hospitality to visitors to New York, we are here to help in any way we can,” he said in a statement issued by City Hall. Main dispatched in October.

The hotel operator did not respond to a request for comment.

Have contracts with caterers to provide meals, as hotels often do not have kitchens and appliances such as rice cookers are prohibited. An agreement with LIC COM that began in October says the company will provide a “culturally relevant Latin-focused menu with variety throughout the week” for Row, Watson and a shelter. other at the Wolcott Hotel. The cost is $25 to $35 per person per day.

Two of the suppliers that have contracted to set up emergency shelters are SLSCO and Garner Environmental Services, both Texas-based disaster relief companies. SLSCO was awarded a $135 million contract starting in November; Garner was awarded a $30 million contract.

Criticism of the city’s response see the irony here, as it was the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, who began sending migrants to northern cities last year to make a political statement. SLSCO also Make the title for its role in building the border wall in its home state — and for the family behind it that supported Mr Abbott, as did Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida.

The company was previously contracted by the New York Emergency Management Authority to build covid field hospital where there are few patients and to manage vaccination sites. ONE audited by Mr. Lander’s office related to vaccination sites last year found that duplicate and erroneous payments resulted in overpayments of tens of thousands of dollars.

Mayor Eric Adams has warned that the city cannot endure what he calls “unbelievable stress,” but he also stressed that New York will continue to welcome newcomers, many of whom of them are applying for asylum. Lander, controller and advocates have said the city must shift its focus to getting all homeless people into permanent housing faster: Even before migrants start arriving ohh By the way, the average time in a struggling shelter system is more than 500 days.

Earlier this month, City Hall announced that they will create a new Asylum Seekers Executive Office to coordinate all the services they are providing to migrants and Mr. Adams boasted about his administration’s response at an event highlight private contributions to migrants.

“We went across the country, nobody did it like New York, nobody,” he said, adding, “And we worked around the clock.”

Asmaa Elkeurti contribution research.


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