By Laila Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City's use of private apartment buildings to house multiple homeless families came under fire on Thursday, a day after two children living in one of the so-called cluster sites were killed when a boiler exploded.
To ease crowding at shelters during a time of record-high homelessness in New York, the city has used cluster sites and commercial hotels for temporary housing.
"Cluster sites are known to be dangerous. Hotels are extraordinarily expensive and provide limited services. These options make no sense," Comptroller Scott Stringer said in a statement on Thursday.
Stringer, whose office has investigated the city's Department of Homeless Services, called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to end the practices and release a clear plan to better house the homeless.
Cluster sites have come under criticism because the apartment buildings often are in poor condition with problems that raise safety issues and are rented by the city at above-market value.
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De Blasio vowed earlier this year to reduce shelter use citywide, including phasing out cluster units and hotel use after a 26-year-old homeless mother and her two children were stabbed to death at a Ramada Inn where the city had placed them for about two months.
On Thursday, de Blasio recommitted to ending the use of the controversial shelters. But he said there was no immediate indication that Wednesday's incident, in which a 1-year-old and 2-year-old died from radiator steam burns at their home in the Bronx, was related to the building's status as a cluster site.
"We absolutely, as planned, will close all the cluster sites," de Blasio said at a news conference in response to a question the continued use of such shelters.
The mayor said the city would need more time and resources to alleviate the homeless problem, including access to more affordable housing and funding from the state.
De Blasio promised a full investigation into Wednesday's deaths involving city police, the homeless services department and the housing department.
Ruben Diaz Jr., Bronx Borough president, said in a written statement that a council member would be introducing legislation at his request to prevent the city from leasing space in buildings that have outstanding violations or stop work orders.
“I will continue to work with all of my partners in government to identify the bad actors in our shelter system, in order to protect our most vulnerable residents,” Diaz said.
(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Leslie Adler and Bernard Orr)