A company run by the city’s former Commissioner of Homeless Services is planning to put homeless shelters into two buildings on West 95th Street, but nearby residents are fighting to keep the shelters out. Using a rule that allows emergency shelters to be placed in communities without a full public review, Housing Solutions USA is placing 200 families in buildings at 316 West 95th Street and 330 West 95th Street, according to a letter sent to Community Board 7 last week.
(Updated below with comments from Gale Brewer)
The Department of Homeless Services has already approved the proposal and the families may arrive at any moment, Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal tells us. “They tend to bus people in around midnight. That’s what they’ve done in the past,” she said in an interview.
The two buildings are now SRO’s and were forced in 2007 to stop renting rooms to tourists illegally. Turning an SRO into a homeless shelter is a very lucrative proposition. Landlords and organizations can make much more money renting rooms to homeless families than to poor people who are not part of the city social services system, because the city pays a much higher rent. In fact, Rosenthal said the city will pay $111 per day for each family (defined as two adults), which works out to more than $3,300 a month. That’s for a very small room without its own bathroom or kitchen.
“Think about the good we could do putting all that money into finding actual affordable housing for these families,” Rosenthal said. “This wastes scarce dollars on transitional housing. Our whole goal should be to move homeless people into permanent housing.”
The lack of notice to the community is grating a lot of people. DHS has met with some elected officials but hasn’t been forthcoming about when the homeless people will be placed in the building.
“As far as I can tell not a single person involved in the community is anything less than outraged by the proposal,” Nick Prigo, a community board member and Democratic district leader, told us. The city had pledged to stop placing shelters on the Upper West Side, but appears to be backing off that pledge, said Prigo.
Hess told community leaders that the facility will only be open a year, but that fact isn’t mentioned in the letter he sent to the community board. Rosenthal says that the facility doesn’t have safety measures like video surveillance cameras, or security guards.
Aaron Biller, of the nonprofit group Neighborhood in the Nineties, issued a call to action, asking people to contact their elected representatives and warning that the West 90′s has become “satiated” with facilities for people with special needs. And the oversight and services for people in those facilities has often been abysmal, putting them and local residents in danger.
“Anyone who recalls the disaster of the poorly-run Apple shelter, opened on 27 July 2006 and closed nine months later, after N90s, CB7 leadership and elected officials, created enormous public pressure, knows what mayhem, criminal danger this population poses for the immediate blocks and greater neighborhood,” he wrote.
Just one week ago, the manager of an HIV shelter on 95th Street was killed by a resident.
Biller is also convinced that Housing Solutions chose to notify the Community Board in July because many people are away on vacation and it was likely to cause less of an uproar. He says that this isn’t a NIMBY issue, given the concentration of shelters in the area:
“To those who raise NIMBY or racist issues, rest assured that a view of the Borough President’s map, or the study by Neighborhood In The Nineties conducted in 2007, documents that our neighborhood already holds among the highest concentration of problem populations of any city neighborhood—21% of Manhattan’s supportive housing units are on the Upper West Side (CB7), most above 86th Street…We have no choice but to win this one—the future of our neighborhood is in the balance.”
Biller also provided a list of facilities that are already in the West 90′s:
Currently, three City agencies—HPD, DHS and HRA are housing nearby more than a thousand special needs residents in such properties as:
- The Narragansett, on Broadway between 93rd and 94th Streets HRA
- The Senate, 92nd Street and Broadway HRA
- Camden Hotel, 206 West 95th –ranked the 24th Precinct’s 2nd most dangerous building—the scene of a murder by a City Placement tenant on Friday – HRA
- 306 and 308 West 94th Street provide emergency homeless shelter HRA
- 311 West 94th Street is a Section 8 with some problem residents
- 200 West 94th Street houses some serious mental hygiene cases HPD
- Yale/Rose on 300 block West 97 HDS/HPD
- Royal York, 200 block West 97th, adjacent to The Columbia HRA
- Huntersmoon, Broadway.99th St HRA (Lantern)
- Frant Broadway/101 DH
Housing Solutions, which recently merged with Bronx-based homeless service organization Aguila Inc., referred us to the Department of Homeless Services when asked to comment. Former DHS Commissioner Robert Hess is the company’s CEO and Chairman.
The DHS hasn’t responded to our questions.
Community Board 7 is “deeply concerned by many aspects of the timing and substance of the proposal, and are working with our elected officials to understand its ramifications and to take appropriate action,” Chairman Mark Diller wrote to us. We haven’t heard back yet from other elected officials but will update when we do.
Update: Brewer, Rosenthal, Diller and Borough President Scott Stringer sent a letter to DHS in opposition to the plan, calling on the agency to “immediately suspend all efforts to refer any clients to the buildings.” Said Brewer:
“The plan is not conducive to the 71 existing residents who live in the buildings, nor to the neighborhood. I support renting the units to people who would be our neighbors on a permanent basis and would have a stake in the community. Transitional housing does not provide adequate, affordable housing for anyone, and I do not support this DHS proposal.”
Rosenthal said that the plan of action for now is to keep meeting with Hess and DHS to try to stop the plan. Presumably, the more public pressure against the shelters, the more likely they won’t come to fruition.