Alan Lapes, who is the landlord for numerous Upper West Side homeless shelters, is making a lot of money by turning SRO buildings into for-profit homeless shelters like one that opened this summer on 95th Street, the New York Times explained in a front-page article this weekend. As the homeless population has jumped in the city, it’s become a very lucrative business opportunity for some people in the city.
The story confirms many of Upper West Siders’ worst fears about the shelters that have proliferated once again in the area (some of which we’ve already reported):
- SRO tenants are being pushed out or paid off to leave the 95th Street shelter so that more rooms can be rented to the shelter operator at rates of $122 per night per room ($3,660 per month).
- Lapes has a very troubling track record, and tenants complain of prostitution, drug use, and violence at the shelters.
- Shelter residents are apparently not getting the help they need to improve their lives. They have “only brief interviews and receive almost no actual referrals.”
- Homelessness is now at 30-year record levels in the city, and laws requiring housing the homeless as well as a lack of units give landlords leverage to charge higher rates.
The financial transaction is somewhat complicated. Apparently Lapes gets about half of the daily rent on each unit ($63), with the rest going to Aguila, the company that runs the shelters. But Lapes himself doesn’t own many of the buildings. He tends to rent them from the Podolsky family, which itself has a troubling history on the UWS: “In the late 1980s, [Stuart] Podolsky, his father and his brother, pleaded guilty to charges by the Manhattan district attorney’s office that they used threats and violence to drive tenants out of three Upper West Side buildings so they could rent them to new tenants at far higher rents or sell them as condominiums or cooperatives. [His attorney] said the guilty pleas were ‘ancient history.'”
To anyone who thinks Upper West Siders oppose the shelters simply for NIMBY reasons, check out this part of the article:
“At several of Mr. Lapes’s shelters, tenants — both homeless and longer-term residents — say the buildings are often characterized by violence, drug-use, mice, broken elevators, periods without heat and hot water, and violations of fire safety laws. At 237 West 107th Street, a six-story women’s shelter formerly known as the West Side Inn, many of the 200 tenants said they often waited for an hour or more to take a shower at one of the shared bathrooms on each floor.
Joyce Colon, a resident there who entered the homeless system in December, said she was shocked by the violence and prostitution in the building.
‘For $3,000 I could have gotten an apartment, a down payment and a security deposit and some furniture,” Ms. Colon, 49, said. “The landlord is getting $3,000 and I’m getting nothing.”
The group Neighborhood in the Nineties is urging Upper West Siders to contact John Liu and tell him not to give final approval for a new five-year contract for the 95th Street shelter. Lapes, by the way, has given very generously to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who is running for mayor (Lapes has given him $4,950 for the 2013 election cycle and another $4,950 to cover de Blasio’s debts from his 2009 campaign. His wife has also donated to de Blasio). De Blasio came to a forum on the Upper West Side a few months ago and pledged to look into the homeless shelter issue. It’s probably time to check back in with him and see if he’s taking any action.
Read all our coverage of the shelters here.