New York Construction News staff writer
For Moujan Vahdat, CEO of Elmo Realty Co., building an energetic, vibrant city is more about supporting people than it is about constructing towers and infrastructure. And his proud record of helping the homeless in New York City since the 1990s speaks for itself.
Looking back at the past 30-years with a continued focus and determination to alleviate the homeless crisis that has engulfed New York City, Vahdat smiles as he thinks about the hundreds of people he has helped and the lives that were changed through his shelters and caring.
“The proudest accomplishment that I am celebrating today is really how we have helped our neighbours – our fellow New Yorkers,” Vahdat said in an interview with New York Construction Report. “I don’t own any luxury buildings in my portfolio, and I never have, because that’s not my goal.
Instead, Elmo Realty’s portfolio is filled with rent stabilized buildings for families and singles, where the rents are very low – always below affordable rents guidelines set by the city.
“Also, I have four homeless shelters which I have built and I’m very proud of them because we’ve done a great job creating them and we net-lease them to a non-profit operator that operates the shelters,” Vahdat said.
“It’s very nice to know that there are many hundreds, actually thousands of people who have a place to stay, a warm place to sleep and the ability to get support from the non-profits are very nice and helpful.”
All those years of first-hand experience have convinced Vahdat that homelessness is a direct impact of mental health issues and that means to tackle the crisis officials need to focus on services for New Yorkers who struggle with mental illness.
Vahdat says the Department of Homeless Service is doing a great job for New York’s homeless.
“They are professionals and compassionate people that work hard for New Yorkers living in shelters and on our streets,” he said.
Taking time to talk to people on the street is a key to identifying the problems – and to finding potential solutions.
“I have gone through all of the shelters. I visit my shelters quarterly if not more and I think it’s time to talk to the homeless people in the street and take the time to listen to them and understand what the real issues are,” Vahdat said. “Often, they don’t know where to turn or the wrongly believe that shelters are dangerous.
For many people, ending up on the street comes down to bad luck, but most of the time, the crisis is caused by mental health struggles ad with the mental health dilemma 100 per cent more prevalent in people who live on the streets than the shelter population, Vahdat says he will continue advocating for the city to build more shelters – the first important step to building a new life for so many.
Vahdat has had a tremendous impact for thousands of New Yorkers, including children.
Promesa Housing Development Fund Corporation (Promesa HDFC), having been housing 46 formerly homeless adults and 60 children in the Bronx for nearly 10 years.
Also, ELMO Realty Co. works closely with The Bridge Inc. to provide housing and behavioral health services to those in need through 40 programs in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan to provide subsidized apartments in East and West Harlem.
The Coalition for the Homeless reported that in August 2022 there were 55,036 homeless people sleeping each night in New York City’s main municipal shelter system, which is 15 percent higher than it was 10 years ago. Also, the number of homeless single adults is now 89 percent higher than it was a decade ago.
Those statistics back up Vahdat’s assertion that to understand homelessness, we must understand and address mental health.
While he says the New York City Department of Homeless Services is doing a good job in a difficult situation, he worries that the worsening crisis will be compounded for hundreds of thousands of people in 2023 when State’s eviction moratorium expires in the absence of additional emergency rental assistance or expansion of needed rent subsidies.
“There’s a huge amount of money that the federal government has allocated for mental health, but it’s not allocated properly to the people,” he said. “It’s very difficult to help people who have mental health issues because they don’t go and stand in line to get help.
Building more shelters would be a good first step in 2023 and Vahdat encourages officials and fellow developers to get out on the street to meet the homeless population and learn what needs to be done.
“When you take the time to talk to people and help them, that’s how you make a positive difference for the people and the city.”