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Articles by Jie Jenny Zou and Roger Miller

Housing the Unwanted

by Jie Jenny Zou and Roger Miller, The New York World

For the next three years of J. Mercado’s life, finding a suitable place to live in New York City will depend entirely on how close the building is to area schools, plus the consent of his parole officer.

Under state law, Mercado, as a paroled sex offender, cannot live within 1,000 feet of schools—making large swaths of Brooklyn off-limits. Parole conditions also prohibit him from fraternizing with other ex-convicts and limit contact to family and friends screened by parole officials.

So when he was finally released from an upstate prison in January, Mercado was confused to find himself living with dozens of sex offenders and other parolees in an illegal rooming house in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

“I don’t even understand the logic—who comes up with this?” said Mercado, who was assigned to a rooming house on Bedford Avenue operated by Horizon Hope Center, which is described in a flier as “safe housing for all who need it, with the comforts of home, and a feeling of close-knit peer support.”

As many as 50 men reside in a converted medical office where doorless units connect in a maze of drywall. Narrow ...