The building at 307 West 79th street could become a homeless shelter if the city doesn’t allow it to become a hotel, says owner Michael Edelstein.

Not so fast, say local politicians.

The building, known as the Imperial Court Hotel and situated between West End Avenue and Riverside, has been an SRO since the 1940s, according to the Daily News. But Edelstein says that the demand for SROs (single-room occupancy units that usually house single people with modest incomes and often have communal bathrooms) has fallen off. About two-thirds of the rooms are now empty, according to Edelstein. “Between taxes and other expenses, the property is now hemorrhaging money,” he wrote in a letter to nearby residents (pasted below).

Edelstein says he wants to rent the rooms to tourists for seven days, but the city and state have passed laws forbidding landlords from renting out rooms in residential buildings for less than 30 days. Edelstein claims he should be able to rent the rooms out for shorter periods because he did so before and he should thus be grandfathered in (The Imperial Court is currently listed on several tourist sites, including Orbitz.). If he doesn’t get that wish, he says he’ll turn the building into a “safe haven” homeless shelter in partnership with Trinity Multi Service Center.

Landlords on the UWS and elsewhere say that the law restricting tourists from renting rooms in residential buildings is keeping them from earning enough money to operate their buildings.

One way landlords can make money is by turning the buildings into homeless shelters. This might seem counterintuitive, but the city has helped make operating a homeless shelter a lucrative business in recent years: taxpayers pay as much as $3,700 per room for a shelter, while an SRO tenant may pay less than $1,000. The homeless shelter at 316 and 330 West 95th street was once an SRO too, and the landlord there had also tried to rent rooms to tourists.

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal says Edelstein is simply using the homeless shelter threat to get the city to loosen laws that maintain low-income housing and keep residential buildings from being overrun with tourists. She and the Department of Buildings assert that Edelstein never had the right to operate his building as a hotel. In fact, Rosenthal says Edelstein is capitalizing on Upper West Siders’ fears over more shelters by making an empty threat. In a letter we’ve pasted below, she writes:

“Mr. Edelstein is once again looking to capitalize on the controversial placements of homeless shelters into the Pennington and Continental Hotels on West 95th administration over community concerns, without a prior public review process and with a belated, dubious Fair Share analysis. Knowing the community backlash to the 95th Street shelter Edelstein now threatens to bring another shelter into this community unless BSA allows him to operate an illegal hotel.”

Rosenthal pointed out that an administrative judge found in 2012 that the Department of Housing Preservation and Development had proven Edelstein “harassed lawful tenants;” landlords who fail to receive a Certificate of Non-Harrassment can be restricted from changing the use of a building (that finding is also pasted below).

Residents have been extremely concerned about Edelstein’s threat to open the shelter, according to emails we’ve received. One email said that “This organization houses chronically homeless as well as ex cons and sex offenders.”

Edelstein’s application will go before the Board of Standards and Appeals on Tuesday at 10 a.m. at 22 Reade Street, Spector Hall, New York, NY 10007.

We’ll have more on this issue as it develops…

Photo via wikimedia.

2014.01.27 Mayor and DHS Letter Re Michael Edelstein

Imperial Court Letter to Neighbors

Admin Judge

NEWS | 16 comments | permalink
    1. Kate says:

      Oh hell no. Enough with the homeless shelters on the UWS.

    2. NikFromNYC says:

      Shelters are progressive voter farms.

    3. Real Estate Maven says:

      Given the highly sought-after location, the owner could run a profitable building by renting apartments at the market-rate.

      Many landlords or developers would be thrilled to have that building in their portfolio. Given a little equity and some market savvy, it is a gold mine.

    4. Harriet says:

      I just don’t understand why the city pays $3700 per month to house the homeless. if these rooms now rent for $1000 per month, and the building is almost empty, why can’t the city refer the working poor here and pay the owner $1000 per month to house these people. Where does that $3700 figure come from? Who is negotiating these deals for the city anywhere?

    5. webot says:

      We need to allow these buildings to be converted from SRO to normal regular apartments for all.

      This policy of putting SROs in some separate category that cannot be changed is ridiculous in 2014.
      Also, it is unconstitutional , its a taking of private property.

      • K8 says:

        I think that the reason this building is not converted from SRO to regular housing is that, as the article mentioned, the owner has not been able to get his Certificate of Non-Harassment, meaning he was likely harassing legal tenants in order to get them out of the apartment so he can convert it to something else more lucrative. Yes, it would be great for those apartments to be converted to normal studios, 1 BR, etc, but not to the detriment of low-income tenants who have been living there and paying low rent. In theory, I think he could convert the vacant apartments if he had that Certificate of Non-Harassment, but of course he would prefer to have 100% of the apartments vacated so those low-rents no longer exist, and perhaps he has taken to nefarious methods to oust the hold-outs.

        So, if you make a blanket allowance for converting SROs to regular apartments without that Certificate of Non-Harassment, that’s just further incentive for the owners to get their low-income tenants out by any means necessary.

        I’d much prefer to see a subsidy program for landlords who can prove that they are losing money due to overly strict rent stabilization laws instead of the city spending $3,700/mo to place a homeless person or family in an SRO. Spend some of that money on preventing homelessness!

    6. PRL says:

      The West ’90’s have already been turned into a huge homeless mess because of laws against the renting of SRO’s to tourists. I wish better luck to the residents of West 79th Street.

    7. Don says:

      Deed restrictions or conditions are common in real estate throughout the country and many of the SROs including those on 95th Street fall under these encumbrances. The owners enjoyed the tax breaks that went with them for decades and now want to get around them that there is a bonanza in homeless sheltering. I have had a number of friends with secure employment and good renting records turned away from Single Room Occupancy hotels in this neighborhood being told that they are no longer renting out to permanent residents. The Department of Homeless Services in paying over the legal rent is not only violating that law (among others) but seriously reducing the affordable housing stock.

    8. witness protection says:

      Don’t expect De Blasio to do anything about reversing the tide on homeless shelters — he’s in deep with the slumlord owners already.

      When Comptroller Liu rejected the no-bid contracts, Bloomberg (also in with the slumlords) sued him.

      The absolute shame of taking affordable apartments off the market and tying the city into paying 3x the market rate for the same space (with no security, kitchens, or private baths) should have every New Yorker up and protesting at City Hall.

    9. Jordan says:

      Rosenthal has her head buried in the sand. Its time for her to wake up to the economic realities of running an apartment building. Of course Edelstein will go where the money is. If the UWS constituents don’t want another shelter, than they should tell Rosenthal to work with him. And maybe sign her up for Econ 101!

      You cant change the regulations and expect the status quo. Edelstein is being put between a rock and a hard place. Its not right.

      • Don says:

        Econ 101. Rent per square foot in SROs is much closer to market rate than you might expect. Most of the rooms are tiny and pulling in $400 to $500. You would need four to six of them to make anything like your typical one bedroom in a building that gets special tax breaks and is assessed on an entirely different scale.
        These SROs made profits off these special deals until they got greedy and decided to cease renting out to permanent residents to cash in on tourists and the ridiculous and illegal overpayment by DHS. In emptying their buildings the owners were no longer allowed to raise the rents annyally along with other rent stabilized units.
        Certificates of No Harassment are usually bought by owners simply paying off tenants they couldn’t drive out. If the exiting tenant doesn’t sign off on the No Harassment then no deal.
        I have lived in one of the SROs on 95th for 26 years. My neighbors are doormen, clerks, pre school teachers, home health workers, cooks in local restaurants among some retired people. I didn’t mind the tourists even though they were taking up affordable housing. It got the building owners off our backs. The local pols and some of my fellow residents complained and this is what we have now.

        • MJ says:

          Sadly, it seems that whether it’s a hotel or a shelter, the affordable housing goes out the window. We as a community should do all we can to stop another homeless shelter from going there. Do you think the rich old bitties on the UES would stand for this?

          Been up to 95th st lately? It’s a hellhole b/c of that shelter. Enough is enough.

          • Bruce Bernstein says:

            As a resident of W 95th street and a condo owner on the block, i can guarantee that it has not become a “hell hole.” unless you are LIVING IN the buildings that are converted, there are no apparent changes. no extra crime. no drugs being sold, as far as I can see. actually, MORE security guards.

            Apartment values in my building have been skyrocketing in the last two years. So much for the “hell-hole.” Prices have probably gone up 20% since the shelters came in.

            I can imagine that it is not pleasant for the tenants living in the buildings, although i don’t know that the buildings were so comfortable for long term tenants when they were youth hostels. but for residents of the block — i can’t see any difference whatsoever.

            i guess people see reality through the colored glasses of their own preconceptions.

    10. More homeless?
      Someone must be joking..