Q&A: S:US’ new CEO on fostering city agency relationships and navigating budget cuts

November 10, 2023
Crain’s New York Business
By Jacqueline Neber

Nonprofits that rely on city funding are staring down future budget cuts. Perry Perlmutter, the new chief executive of Services for the UnderServed, is poised to guide his organization through the headwinds.

Perlmutter comes into the position with years of experience in accounting and insurance, where he learned how hospitals, nursing homes and social service organizations strive to balance their missions with their financial needs. His business acumen led him to become chief financial officer and then interim CEO at the Midtown-based nonprofit, which juggles a $275 million annual budget and houses around 5,000 people per day, before ascending to the top spot.

He spoke to Crain’s about his goals for the supportive housing and behavioral health provider and how he plans to strategize around upcoming budget cuts.

Many nonprofits say they struggle to get enough funding to provide services. What are your priorities in making sure S:US can continue helping New Yorkers?

What we do is try to make sure that we’re efficient with the money that we do get, and we watch all the rules and regulations. I think some of the smaller nonprofits really struggle because they don’t have room for administrative costs. We try to hire the most capable people in finance, in IT, in HR, so that we can build a team that understands regulations [and] make sure that we fulfill all the needs of the funders. We get audited every year by so many different agencies for almost every program.

My goal is to spend all the dollars that we get because if you don’t spend it, you give it back in most programs. I think that’s really important for our employees and for the people that we serve. Aside from that, we want to continue to grow, we want to be a thought leader, we want the city or the state agencies to come to us with issues [and] with programs so that we can take care of them. We want them to be able to come to us and really count on S:US as one of the key players in this world.

How do you foster those relationships with agencies?

I’ve been meeting with the commissioners of the city and state agencies and introducing myself, explaining what we do, talking about what we need from them and what we could do for them. I’d say every week I’m meeting someone else. Last week we met the commissioner of [the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities] and we’re going to meet the commissioner of [the state Office of Mental Health and Office of Addiction Services and Supports]. Sometimes I tell them some of the struggles we have [so] maybe they could help us with certain things, but we’re there to help them with challenges, especially the challenges that New York City is undergoing now with the migrant crisis and with the housing crisis. We want to be there for the city and the state. I think that’s the way you do it––you build relationships. Over time you get that trust.

What are your goals for supportive housing and behavioral health?

They go together. With supportive housing, we have two projects. One in the Bronx that is two buildings. We’re hoping to open one of the buildings in the next year to 18 months. It’s 300 units, mostly going to [people who are homeless] and also some with substance use issues.

We’re part of a very large project called Alafia. It’s 2,500 units and it’ll probably be a 10-year project. It’s a Blue Zone project: all of the health needs that you have should be there. Communities that don’t have enough health care…it should all be there and it makes it so much easier to access it. Our urban garden will be there, there’ll be health care facilities, there’ll be retail…It’s down by Jamaica Bay.

We’re opening a supportive crisis stabilization center in Brooklyn in the next six months for people in crisis and they can come for 24 hours and stay with us. We’re embedding clinicians into our supportive housing and into our shelters to help people with that. There’s a lot of different areas that we’re exploring.

How do you plan to stay afloat amidst upcoming city agency budget cuts?

We are concerned. We’ve had small budget cuts already in the city and the shelters. We are going to try to be as efficient as possible, depending on what the city does. We do have some other sources––we have generous donors that we would go to, and we would also look to other agencies. Let’s say the city isn’t going to pay for everything––we can embed certain services into a shelter that maybe the state would pay for. But it’s going to be tough. That’s one of the tough areas that we’re struggling with. We’re waiting to see what the city comes up with. There is some different maneuvering that we would have to do because we care about our services and we’re not looking to cut any of them.

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