An article this month from New York magazine reveals stark and disturbing facts about the family that has profited off of the proliferation of homeless shelters on the Upper West Side, and been aided in their goals by the Bloomberg administration.
We’ve written several articles about the problems with the shelter at 316 and 330 West 95th street, where operators Aguila Inc. make $3,700 per tiny cubicle per month. But we really had no idea quite how bad things were until reading the article about the landlords behind many of the local shelters, including the one on 95th. The Podolskys, who own many of the buildings here that are now used as shelters, have a startling history of forcing poor people out of their homes in order to make money off of city policies that reward the nastiest kind of abuse. How startling? The brothers in charge of the real estate have 37 felonies on their record stemming from some pretty startling abuses. They’ve been called “terror lords.”
“In 1983, the Podolskys and another family partnered to purchase three connected buildings on West 77th Street. What happened next caught the attention of Morgenthau’s office. According to prosecutors, after some preliminary hostilities with tenants, the Podolskys hired ‘professional vacators,’ a gang that traveled Manhattan in a U-Haul truck, rendering buildings unlivable. A leader called “Bear” was allegedly installed as the superintendent, and apartments were filled with hustlers, prostitutes, and junkies. Tenants reported frequent burglaries and harassment. One elderly woman died of pneumonia in an unheated room. The vacators received $600 for each departing tenant. They were friendly with all three Podolskys, prosecutors claimed. When Zenek visited, Bear would wash his Cadillac.”
The article makes it clear that this was not an isolated event from long ago. Author Andrew Rice details more recent incidents of poor people in other buildings living in absolute filth and being evicted in all sorts of disturbing ways. By pushing out poor people who pay lower rents, they get to invite homeless people in and make ten times as much. Meanwhile, some of the poor people they push out become homeless. “The Podolskys had hit upon a coldly self-sustaining business model: They created the homeless supply and profited from the shelter demand.” The shelter buildings also have violations that the city simply overlooks.
The city and the landlords have kept these facts well hidden, failing to respond to questions from the media and local leaders and sometimes running shelters in private buildings without any contracts at all. The Podolskys’ shelter business “operates behind a firewall of arcane lease arrangements and interrelated holding companies, many of which have been placed in the maiden names of the brothers’ wives, Shirley and Sharon.” And Aguila executives like Robert Hess (the former DHS commissioner), and middlemen like Alan Lapes appear to be front men for the landlords, who make tons of money on the contracts — $90 million or more since 2010. (Interestingly, the Podolskys also own upscale hotels like the Empire Hotel.)
What’s more, there appear to be many more shelters than we had originally known about. The Podolskys appear to have connections to shelters on West 83rd street and throughout the 90’s and 100’s, according to a map compiled by New York magazine. We’ve posted the UWS portion below, and you can see the entire map here.
This would seem to be the kind of abuse that government officials would aggressively fight. But the Bloomberg administration has fought aggressively to protect the Podolskys, spending taxpayer money on lawyers to fight for them and their front men. The city lawyers are now in court against Comptroller John Liu and local group Neighborhood in the Nineties. As local leaders can attest, Liu has been the most aggressive city official when it comes to calling Bloomberg out on this issue.
We reached out to City Council member Gale Brewer and State Assembly member Linda Rosenthal for comments about the article, but haven’t heard anything back. Although they have opposed the shelters, local politicians often seem to be in the dark about what’s really going on (to be fair, Bloomberg has done everything he can to stop oversight). Helen Rosenthal, who will be taking over for Brewer next month, has vowed to change the system. Bill de Blasio has also pledged a change. We will be keeping tabs to see what happens.
The map above shows locations of homeless shelters tied to the Podolsky family on the UWS, as identified by New York magazine. Full map is here.