By Carol Tannenhauser
After winning the support of Community Board 7 earlier this month, opponents of the new homeless shelter being opened on West 94th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, have taken their challenge to court.
On Wednesday morning, Neighborhood in the 90s, a local advocacy group, and four permanent tenants of The Alexander, the SRO that will house the new shelter, filed for a temporary restraining order to prevent the shelter from opening.
Judge Verna Saunders, of the Supreme Court, New York County, came back with a mixed decision, according to Stewart Wurtzel, attorney for the plaintiffs.
“Part of the restraining order we were seeking was granted; part of it was denied,” Wurtzel said, in a telephone interview. “Basically, the judge is allowing the shelter residents to start coming in as soon as they get clearance from the State, but they are limiting the number, at this point, to either 100 residents or a maximum of 50 units, which is below the 220 residents that the City is requesting. The judge also included protections for the current tenants of The Alexander. “They’ll be no evictions or otherwise interfering with their rights of occupancy,” Wurtzel said.
A City spokesperson called the protections a reiteration of steps the City has already taken to assure the tenants that their homes are safe, including direct contacts and multiple letters. The City views the ruling as favorable, allowing them to begin moving people into the shelter incrementally, while simultaneously closing the troubled Freedom House shelter on West 95th street, between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.
Aaron Biller, president of Neighborhood in the 90s, contends that the most difficult clients left in Freedom House will be moved to 94th Street. The block is already home to a permanent supportive SRO for formerly homeless people; and a Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) emergency shelter for people who lose their homes because of fires and other dire circumstances.
“Call them what you will,” Wurtzel said. “Our view is that they’re shelters and they violate ‘fair share’ (a provision in the NYC Charter that requires the City to avoid the unequal siting of public facilities). Three shelters on a single block is undue concentration, as a matter of law,” Wurtzel said.
The Alexander is slated to house 110 “single adult families,” which the City defines as “families comprised of individuals over the age of 18, including, for example: a young couple trying to make ends meet; an elderly couple who cannot afford rent after decades living in New York City; a young person supporting an aging parent; and/or an older parent supporting an older child who may have physical or developmental challenges.”
The parties are due back in court on January 29, 2019. “Our motion to preliminarily enjoin the opening of the shelter while the merits of our claims are litigated will be argued before the Court,” Wurtzel said.