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.