Streams

Drug Rehab for Housing: Alleged Scheme Targets City’s Most Vulnerable

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

WNYC

Boarding homes that pack in poor people and collect welfare funds or disability checks as rent are nothing new in New York City. Homeless advocates have been complaining about these so-called three-quarter houses for years. The city's shelter system used to send people to them, but eventually agreed to stop making referrals to places with documented violations.

Shelters weren't the only places sending people to three-quarter houses. Tenants still coming from prisons, detox programs and mental hospitals and many of them complain they are being coerced into attending drug rehab programs. 

When Jerome David came to live at 42 Christopher Avenue, a three-story building on a desolate block in East New York, he had lost his job, been evicted from his apartment and needed a permanent place to stay. He had turned to a caseworker at a local non-profit who referred him to a three-quarter house that he thought would help David move on with his life.

“It was a Wednesday, I believe, when I went to RYB,” David remembered.

RYB is the name of the entity that manages the three-quarter house where Jerome David landed. The deal was simple: David would get a place to live and, in exchange, he would attend a drug rehab program five days a week. There was just one problem: Jerome David said he never did drugs, nor did he drink or smoke. But the house's owner had a plan. He drove David to rehab to sign up.

“Along the way, he stopped at this store and he bought me a can of beer and he told me to drink a little bit and to splash some on my face and on my clothes so they’ll smell it. So I did,” David said.

But when put on the spot, David said he confessed the lie to staffers at the program.

“They gave me a psychiatrist I spoke to. I told her I don’t drink or don’t smoke and she said for the purpose of me being there, say I did.” David agreed.

After six months, he graduated from the program. But, David said, instead of helping find him a permanent place to live, the three-quarter house wanted him out.

“They had garbage bags. They were telling me pack my things and I was like 'I am not packing nothing.' We nearly got physical. I called the police. The police came. And when I explained to the police officer what the whole situation was, I showed them the copy of the leases and how long I was there to the present. The officer told them they can’t illegally evict me. They have to take me to court and that’s where we are in right now,” said David.   

For the most part, three-quarter houses are filled with people who have just come out of prison, detox centers and mental hospitals. The houses are unregulated and tenants mostly pay their rent with a $215 monthly shelter allowance from welfare. In New York City, if a tenant’s been living in an apartment more than a month, a landlord must serve them with eviction papers and give them a chance to respond in court.  

David said in the year or so he’s been at the house he has seen dozens of men kicked out without notice.  

Yuri Baumblit is the man tenants say operates close to a dozen three-quarter houses. 

In 2005, the state Attorney General announced a 72 count indictment against Baumblit, his wife and six others. Among other things, the group was accused of enterprise corruption and money laundering in a scheme to defraud car insurance companies. Baumblit was sentenced to under a year in prison and five years probation.

City records show the Human Resources Administration has paid more than $360,000 in public welfare funds to pay people’s rent at three-quarter houses linked to Baumblit.

WNYC has tried to speak with Yuri Baumblit to give him the opportunity to respond to the allegations against him. Women answering the phone at his office in Brownsville, Brooklyn said on one occasion that Baumblit was unavailable and on another that nobody by that name worked there. Two men who answered the door at the office, which is located at one of the three-quarter houses, said Yuri Baumblit wasn’t in.

On Monday, three tenants including Jerome David filed a class action lawsuit against Baumblit and others associated with the houses. The lawsuit alleges that tenants are living in unsafe conditions, continually harassed and required to attend drug treatment programs regardless of whether they need them. Tanya Kessler from MFY Legal Services is representing them.

“We’re hearing from a large number of tenants that their tenancy is contingent on their attendance at an outpatient substance abuse program," Kessler said.

Kessler said tenants are convinced that some house operators are getting money when residents attend drug rehab, largely because house operators hound tenants for slips that prove they got treatment each day. And once their rehab stint is over, the tenants get pushed out of the three-quarter houses.

The young attorney said the tenants who actually stand up to unscrupulous three-quarter house operators are definitely the exception, not the rule.

“Once you’re in that situation, you’re just struggling for survival. You’re trying to figure out where you’re going to lay your head or how you’re going to get your belongings back or where you’re going to put them. How you’re going to eat the next day. Going to court is something of a luxury,” said Kessler.

But for those who do make it, housing court is their last attempt to keep from returning to the streets.

On a recent afternoon, a judge ordered Larry Powell be let back in his room on Miller Avenue in East New York. Kessler is also his attorney and was handing him the documents he’d need to enforce the judge's ruling. Powell had spent the previous night riding the train. He is no stranger to the streets. He and his wife struggle with mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness. But having a roof over their heads had proven stabilizing. Powell says he only ever dabbled in drugs, but his wife Pam Worts had a 20-year heroin addiction she had found impossible to kick.

At a diner across the street from housing court, Powell and Worts talked about their path to three-quarter housing.

“This is the first time ever that I had really stopped…you understand what I’m saying and I just feel like with them providing me housing and providing me with all the things they said they were going to provide me with, I said if I put the drugs down and I put them down for real, then I will really get the help that I need," Worts said.

At one point, Worts says she was a belligerent, skeleton of a woman who had lost all her teeth. She had sex for drugs so many times, she isn’t certain who the father of her daughter is. The girl is now a runaway. It’s hard to match up that description with the woman who sits in the coffee shop. Today, she is impeccably dressed. Her weight is back and she’s got dental implants. But her optimism is gone and desperation is beginning to set in.

“But, I actually sit here and I think about it I don’t know what’s more miserable because you know, at least when I was high I sedated how I felt. I’m sober today, so I see everything that’s going on around me. I’m aware of what’s being done to me. I don’t know what makes me sadder, being in active addiction or having to accept the fact that you know what I’m saying, I’m still failing in life,” she said.  

When Worts and her husband came to live at 347 Miller Avenue, they were told they would receive job training and, most importantly, help with finding a permanent place to live. A brochure the house gives out said “Comprehensive team of managers help your clients transition into independent living.” Instead, the couple says, there were no services and they were hounded about attending a drug rehab program in Borough Park, Brooklyn. When Powell completed the six month program, he says he was pressured to leave the house. Eventually, he says they locked him out of his room and his things were destroyed.

Powell recalled the scene. “My clothes is cut up…my food, eggs, bacon and meat was on top of my clothes. If you go there, if they let us back in you’ll see all the stuff that I’m telling you about right now, “ he said.

Larry Powell and Pam Worts are also living at houses linked to Baumblit. But Baumblit is not the only operator tenants complain about.

In Greenpoint Brooklyn, James Taylor was also threatened with eviction.

The 47-year-old was hit by a car years ago and sometimes uses a cane. When he was put out of his three-quarter house this summer, he threatened to call the police. He ended up in an altercation with the house manager, who would not give his name, but who made it clear Taylor had to leave.  

“What you need to understand, this is a facility where you have to qualify for the stay here. You therefore don’t qualify. Your system has been clean for well some time now," the house manager said.

It’s true that Taylor had been clean for several months. No small feat for a man who had been smoking crack for most of his adult life. That night, Taylor was allowed to stay. A few days later he was put out again. This time, he spent the night in a park and waited for morning when housing court would open. Like Powell, a judge ruled in his favor and ordered he be let back in. Sitting on a bench in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, blocks from his three-quarter house, Taylor apologized for his smell and pondered his predicament.

“I knew it wasn’t right what they were doing and I wasn’t just going for a shelter. I wasn’t going for another three-quarter house that I didn’t know anything about. If they would have gave me time to find a place that was suitable for me, then it wouldn’t have came to this but it was like, 'No, you’re in the street,'” said Taylor.

He said part of him felt proud for standing up for himself and a part of him dreaded another confrontation.

The entity that runs Taylor’s current three-quarter house is called CIS Counseling Center. That’s also the name of the drug rehab program that tenants are required to attend. New York State's Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services or OASAS oversees drug rehab programs and in 2009, CIS was cited with several serious violations.

A state inspection report reads, “CIS’s current practice of mandating outpatient treatment as a requirement for admission into a sober home residence is a violation of patient rights and should be immediately ceased.”

The same 2009 inspection report painted a picture of a program that keeps shoddy case records and most troubling, the report said that the CIS Counseling Center provided services to its patients that are "clinically unnecessary and unjustified".

WNYC reached Jack Schnitt, Executive Director of CIS by phone at his office and asked him to discuss the damaging report, but Schnitt said he wouldn’t talk about it.

WNYC began asking the city’s Human Resources Administration in September for information about payments to three-quarter house operators. It took them three months to respond. According to agency records, between January of 2009 and October of 2010, more than $2 million was paid by HRA to about a dozen companies known to be three-quarter house operators in Brooklyn alone.

In response to complaints about operators, HRA says tenants have a right to choose where they want to live and vetting landlords would make it impossible to provide timely assistance. 

When asked about the allegations that drug rehab programs were linked to three-quarter houses, OASAS would only say any time an allegation is made against an OASAS provider, it's reviewed.

Stephen Nessen/WNYC
Larry Powell inside his three-quarter house.
Stephen Nessen/WNYC
Larry Powell's bedroom after he says house operators destroyed his belonings
Stephen Nessen/WNYC
Police officers respond to a tenant harassment complaint at three-quarter house on Miller Avenue in Brooklyn.
Cindy Rodriguez/WNYC
Larry Powell and Pam Worts on their way back from drug rehab in Brooklyn.
Karen Frillmann/WNYC
Entrance to three-quarter house on Christopher Avenue where Jerome David lives.
Karen Frillmann/WNYC
A sign inside the entrance hall tells tenants they must leave by December 15.

Editors:

Karen Frillmann

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Comments [16]

Lolly in BK from Brooklyn,NY

The catch 22 and dismal reality of home owner and home seeker with a low income are pervasive that everyone is a victim and no one is without sainthood or sinner-ship. Most homeowners get involved in these practices as the one means to holding on to the property so the mortgage can get paid and it not be foreclosed on. There are not enough apartments for single adults of lower incomes. There are some career addicts that go from 3/4 to 3/4 until they are caught using their drug choice on the premises. If it were not for the 3/4 house (low income to get a cot/bed/bunk) so much more single adults would be on the street or transitioning from couch to couch or floor or chair in the homes of friends and relatives. (thats why the 3/4 is so expansive and HRA & NYC housing code permit it) [WHERE ARE? WHERE CAN? WHERE WILL? "the people go"; "the people rest their head" "so many adults are living out of suitcases and make bi-weekly / seasonal visits to exchange their possessions lodged at a storage faciity"
There are good and decent 3/4 houses; good and decent people in them; good and decent people running them - but the spotlight always goes onto the unscrupulous, the vulnerable, and victimizer. So Many are making a buck off of anothers misfortune; hard-luck; or woeful ways it gets hard to see the forest or the trees. Everyone deserves stability, permanency and the sense of belonging without fearing each impending tomorrow.

Jul. 19 2012 04:16 AM
brucewhain from NYC

My shelter tried to send me to that Christopher place and I just refused. (Think it was 'cause I was white.) Luckily their curfew conflicted with my work hours, but really they can't do that, or so people at the shelter told me. If you want to get into supportive housing (the way to go) probably the only organized system for getting there is the shelters' placement system. Shelters have other obvious advantages vs. 3/4 houses - safe place to store things, etc. and as far as I know their case workers are the only ones allowed to make placements through NYC's housing placement listings.

Yuri Baumblitz ... Jeeziz...

Apr. 07 2012 05:41 PM
Jrocks

F...... That russian wussy that has to walk with those two black guys cause he knows he screwed more people than MADOFF. I lived there for a month and he kicked me out cause I was clean for too long and the outpatient gave me 3days a week and YURI cant collect his _3 days of $lipps that he hounds people for every morning, that guys a straight CROOK (not the sharpest tic tac either)!!! P.S. We all bought him those BENZ's he drives around in.

Jan. 05 2012 01:35 PM
Joseph Morales Feliciano from BROOKLYN NY

Greetings to all! I would first like to say that it takes a real man or women to stand out and speak out truth rather than lay down and only complain. Secondly, all that has been so far stated in the above or aforementioned was and is true, even still today. I know of such because I was there in such inviorments and worked as a Supervisor for some, but I would not just put people out. I fought with the owners constantly to provide what was needed for the houses and worked with guys PA workers face to face. The problem though stems from the City and States inability to have the proper programs placed into position to help either those coming out of prison or who lose their residence. The greatest Crime and Criminals are those of the city and itys deligates that know of how much money is being shoveled out but also shoveled back in for them. The City makes a substancial interest showing margins to the State that they are taking care of the homeless for which the Federal Government has Shovel out MILLIONS of dollars towards for each city. But that money is never really seen. Then there is the BIG PRISON RELEASE Scam of how Prisoners do not receive the money they are truly supposed to be alotted for after spend 5 or more years in-prison nor the interest for the money that was invested on them by independant and outside investors that invested in the prisoners ID NUMBER whhich was a BANK ACCOUNT NUMBER, to which not one prisoner signed an agreement of WAIVER to receiving interest that were never given to them. Just as you are being invested on right now as a so called citizen by being taxed and your SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER being a bank number, which is why the Government does not want Alien(s) in or within the boarders of the US because they can not TAX them without that BANK ID NUMBER, or haven't you noticed the word ALIEN being the same to the word LIEN. The City hires PA workers and they themselves are the oppressors. The CITY its Mayor and its Governor are all playng the same game because they keep most of everyone stupified!!!!!!

Mar. 09 2011 07:16 PM
Jessica from New York

Yury should be ashamed of himself. Him and his disgusting wife Rimma. They are two crooks, with a son who is addicted to drugs himself. Why don't they stop exploiting these people and get their son some help? They are the worst kind of people, and should have gone to jail when they commited insurance fraud. These people are a prime example of how messed up the justice system is. They deserve to be in jail, not walking the streets, and capatilizing off of illegal business deals. Why don't these two idiots attempt to make money the legal way? Oh thats right, they are too stupid!

Feb. 24 2011 05:49 PM
jac from brooklyn

i work in an out patient substance abuse program and it is sad to say that this persons are being exploited by a handfull of individuals who profit from the city HRA milking the medicaid system dry. i will not say more but that the clients that trust the providers with their lives need to be treated with dignity and respect. I hear their stories everyday on how they are treated in these three quarter houses.

Feb. 22 2011 05:19 PM
cathy wilson from GA.

I can relat to these poor pweople being duped,my son was in one of these places,after completing a program in upstae N.Y. He was promised help and to be placed in better housing and all that the program was to do.As of today he has been to 2 of these and has never gotten any help.It is true it is an uphill battle in fighting this system.
He is going to school and trying to better himself,but still has trouble getting decent housing.
\These so called places need to be regulated since they get tax payers money to run these places.I hope that the city of N.Y. gets a handel on this problem.

Feb. 18 2011 11:33 AM
Peter gunz from Ny

Whatever that first guy eric said I agree

Jan. 10 2011 09:18 AM
Eric Bishko

I lived at that first apartment, from February until November, 2010. Yury Baumblit is a straight and simple slumlord. If anyone doubts the truth that is written here, I'm sorry but you're poorly mistaken. We had to deal with no power, because Yury didnt want to pay the bill. Mice crawling on the beds at night. Rats in the kitchens and hallways. No heat. Yury has two goons who are there for the sole purposes of intimidation. I was there. I left in November because I couldnt take their harassment anymore. Jerome, Mef, Fred, and Tim, if you ever read this, good job guys. I wish you the best.

Jan. 09 2011 06:54 PM
Christine from Putnam County

This is a very depressing article. Unfortunately there is a great deal of truth. But it is very one-sided and does not acknowledge the programs that really do help people. There are many very good, stable, and reputable halfway and three-quarter houses out there and to print an article like this which leaves people who don't know anything about the system with the idea that all such places are run in this manner is just as irresponsible as the places you are writing about. I have spent the better part of my life helping the people you are exploating in this article. I agree wholeheartedly that the parana that you are referring to should be dealt with and closed down but please be more balanced and give the good guys their kuddos

Dec. 29 2010 09:12 AM
mary from greenpoint

A couple of years ago, I became aware of a similar 3/4 housing scam run by my neighbors in Greenpoint (who also have a 3/4 house in East New York)...in conjunction w/ one of the better known rehab organizations....it sickens me.

They collect all of the welfare and other benefit checks from the tenants for six months, and many of the tenants pick up and are out on the streets again within days of checking in.

I wonder if there is any legitimate help for these very vulnerable people, many of whom are really trying to get back on their feet. Or, if there is a Dickensian world below the radar of most new yorkers...fullof petty criminals and "former" addicts preying on these people and dooming their future. It must feel very hopeless.

Dec. 17 2010 03:31 AM
Knitted Afghan from Queens

I wish someone would bust those horrible halfway houses... Please send in the DAs!! ASAP...

Dec. 16 2010 09:06 PM
Nicholas Malter from Brooklyn

As a firefighter (not autherized to speak on behalf of the FDNY) I'm incredibly frustrated. I work in an area if Brooklyn full of "3/4" houses. In the course of our communtiy fire safety inspections, we stumble across these residences, and request an immediate response from the NYC Dept. of Buildings. In the view of the fire dept. most of these places are patently illegal occupancies and fire traps, which violate existing Building Dept.codes and NYS Multiple dwellling laws. Sometimes we suceed in getting the NYC Dept. of Buildings to respond and issue an immediate vacate order. What I can't understand is why these residences persist. If the City (or HRA) cared, most of them could be shut down today just for violating fire safety codes. But while I feel- as a professional- that these 3/4 houses are immenently dangerous living conditions, somehow the other city agencies don't feel the same urgency, or are intentionally overlooking existing laws.

Dec. 16 2010 05:42 PM
Dolores from Manhattan

Bravo to the attorneys and tenants who are taking on these unscrupulous landlords. I can't believe that there's not a financial arrangement between operators and substance abuse programs. That's the only reason operators would throw out a tenant after he or she completed the program -- in order to have space available for someone else and get another kickback. Seems like this is something the AG should look into.

Dec. 16 2010 11:18 AM
wait500 from NYC

I am going to confess that I am a recovered drug addict who went to rehab in Brooklyn and then one of these 3/4 houses in Brooklyn and all said above is true. Mind you, to add to my veracity, I am a Honors undergrad of a well regarded university and a graduate of a well regarded law school. I found drugs late in life and suffered due to it but have recovered and set my life right.

I was encouraged to go to one of these houses and it was a new house in east new york, where so many of these exist. They are all money making operations for the landlords/llc's that run them. They own multiple houses, they require drug programs, they put bunkbeds in small rooms so that at least 4 grown men reside in a room meant for one person. The house I lived in for 2 weeks - I couldn't get out fast enough! (luckily, I am educated and had options) - had approximately 28 men in a three story home with 5 bedrooms. One of the bedrooms was reserved solely for the "manager" who was kicked out the day after I left for using drugs on the premises. You can only imagine what it was like. Lots of mental/emotional instability, ex-felons mixed with recovering drug addicts, mixed with current criminals, mixed with some drug use, mixed with tension of most men wanting to avoid confrontation - its all for the benefit of the llc and nothing for the benefit of the tenants.

When I was leaving, they had added 4 more beds to the living room so that when you walked in the front door, you would literally walk into 4 men's living spaces. I was going to report the place for code violations due to too few toilets but i knew it wouldn't make a difference.

I am able to get out of this situation due to my education and determination. Most of these people are not. Do I feel sorry for tenants? No, most of them also have an entitlement attitude that screams "now that I want help, it should be here" and there is a lot of complaining but no action. They are just as guilty of being in their predicament. They are, after all, grown men, adults, who should be more proactive about their own issues. There is help but one has to make consistent efforts to find it but that consistency pays off.

The entire OASAS system in NY is horrible. You can be an active addict for years and learn to use the system for your own benefit. You can come from NJ and use the system for your own benefit.

The rehab in Brooklyn was horrible. The staff was only concerned with keeping on top of paperwork to ensure that they continued with their jobs. They only worked to ensure their own paychecks, not to help addicts. It was a miserable staff. I would love to name names but its not worth it. Two staff members were really caring about individuals but most were concerned with their own comfort.

OASAS is 95% about money. That's it. I'd

Dec. 16 2010 11:00 AM
Anderson from Brooklyn

The City of New York through this current administration is contributing to the erosion of affordable housing in this city. Whether it's the payments through HRA to these owners who run these homes where they violate tenant's rights, as well as create overcrowded residences in sub-standard conditions.

The Mayor funded the GOP re-take of the State Senate, which has always been against the City's working people by consistently weakening the rent laws.

This buildings subject to these actions by these brave tenants, these brave citizens, are rent-stabilized. The City is blatantly ignoring the regulations that allow stability to grow, communities to flourish, by its practices and actions.

The rent laws expire 6 months from today. NY'ers need to get involved to strengthen these laws that allow us to have community, allow us to have homes.

Dec. 16 2010 10:18 AM

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