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Boro mentally ill need more housing: Judge

A Brooklyn federal court judge has ruled that the state Health Department must provide 4,500 units of individual housing for the mentally ill living in group homes in Queens and other boroughs over the next three years.

The ruling throws out the state’s plan to provide 1,000 housing units over five years. The state is preparing to appeal the court order.

State Attorney General Anthony Cuomo’s office argued that the 1,500 housing units a year requested by the plaintiff, Disability Advocates Inc., is not feasible in the current real estate market.

The judge ruled the state had not proven that in its arguments.

The initial lawsuit, which went to trial and was resolved last September, used as a sample 32 different group homes in the city. Some 12 of those homes are in Queens neighborhoods like Elmhurst, Flushing, Forest Hills and Far Rockaway.

Many of them are part of the New York Coalition for Quality Assisted Living, a group that stands to lose quite a bit if the ruling goes forward.

Fred Winters, a spokesman for the group, said the state initiated a pilot program with 60 supportive housing units a few years ago.

“It took them two years to find tenants for those 60 units,” he said. “This judge wants to do 1,500 a year. That kind of precludes doing any kind of thorough, professional evaluation of whether the residents of the adult homes are appropriate for independent supportive housing.”

In his initial decision, Judge Nicholas Garaufis noted that as of Dec. 31, 2008, more than 80 percent of the residents in 28 of the 32 adult homes were reported as having mental illness.

In 18 homes, more than 95 percent of the residents had mental illness, and in nine homes, 100 percent of the residents have mental illness.

According to the Health Department’s 2008 Census Report, more than 4,300 mentally ill people were living in these adult homes. Winters said the group homes get $39 a day per person in compensation from the state.

“Try to get a hotel room for $39 a day,” he said. “So this is a business with a very, very slim margin and once the census slips below a certain percentage of your capacity, it’s no longer an economically viable business.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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