Homeless Families Win Beds On Upper West As Judge Tosses Shelter Suit

This story was originally published on May 6 by THE CITY.


Photo by Ben Fractenberg.

By Rachel Holliday Smith, THE CITY

More homeless families will move into an Upper West Side building being converted into a shelter as soon as possible, city officials said, following a judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit fighting the West 94th Street facility.

Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Lyle Frank dismissed the suit brought by a neighborhood group and current tenants of 306 W. 94th St. — formerly known as “The Alexander” — a seven-story former residential hotel built in 1910, according to court documents filed Monday.

Frank tossed the suit, saying those who brought it — the group Neighborhood in the Nineties and four current tenants of the West 94th Street building — did not prove claims the city violated zoning and city law at the shelter site.

About 75 homeless families already live in the shelter, following another judge’s partial go-ahead for the shelter conversion at the building after the groups filed suit in mid-December.

The city Department of Homeless Services has been waiting to fully utilize the building since the agency announced in the fall of 2018 the site would open as a replacement for the notorious Freedom House shelter on West 95th Street.

Department spokesperson Isaac McGinn said the agency is working with the state to get final approval to move in the remaining residents. In total the shelter, run by Praxis Housing Initiatives, will house 220 homeless New Yorkers.

McGinn called the ruling “a win for families experiencing homelessness.”

“We remain committed to working with the community to ensure this facility is seamlessly integrated into the neighborhood and that these families receive a warm welcome,” he said in a statement.

Aaron Biller, president of Neighborhood in the Nineties, said in an email that he and his fellow plaintiffs are “disappointed by the court’s decision and intend to appeal.”

The decision comes just a week after THE CITY first reported a ruling in the city’s favor at another controversial Manhattan shelter — a facility for homeless men on West 58th Street, adjacent to the so-called Billionaires’ Row.

That shelter and the West 94th Street site are two of 90 new homeless shelters slated to open under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s revamp of the system, which aims to end the use of stand-alone apartments and hotel rooms to house homeless people.

The city’s homeless population remains at record-high levels, according to a recent report by the homeless advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless, with more than 68,000 New Yorkers in the shelter system as of this year.

This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

NEWS | 50 comments | permalink
    1. dannyboy says:

      “More homeless families will move into an Upper West Side building being converted into a shelter as soon as possible”

      “About 75 homeless families already live in the shelter”

      What a heartless suit.

      • Kanta Fordette says:

        “Frank tossed the suit, saying those who brought it — the group Neighborhood in the Nineties and four current tenants of the West 94th Street building — did not prove claims the city violated zoning and city law at the shelter site.”

        What a gutless decision.

        • dannyboy says:

          Would you prefer a more authoritarian approach? The Law is important, it is what protects us from fascism.

    2. Sherman says:

      “We remain committed to working with the community to ensure this facility is seamlessly integrated into the neighborhood and that these families receive a warm welcome”.

      Ha!

      Sounds like bureaucratic babble.

      I feel bad for hard working people who live in the vicinity of this shelter.

      • Sarah says:

        Plenty of hardworking people are homeless. Pretend all you want that it’s your virtue that distinguishes you from them, but it’s actually your luck.

      • Linda,Tea says:

        What a mean-spirited person you are.

      • Sherman says:

        Hi Jen

        You’re partially correct.

        There are plenty of wealthy people who have been living in this neighborhood for decades paying pennies in rent while everyone else subsidized them.

        I also consider these people freeloaders.

        Sherm

        • js says:

          Sherman,
          Based on several of your posts, it is my understanding that you grew up in the suburbs and then moved to NYC as an adult.
          If you are referring to rent-control tenants, please note that there are hardly any left. Any left would be quite elderly. Moreover a myth that there are truly wealthy people paying pennies in rent

      • dannyboy says:

        Calling this bureaucratic babble: ““We remain committed to working with the community to ensure this facility is seamlessly integrated into the neighborhood and that these families receive a warm welcome”” offends Department of Homeless Services.

        But I guess that’s your point.

    3. Leon says:

      I’m not thrilled about this but the upside is that with all of these new homeless shelters opening, there is absolutely no excuse for anyone to be setting up residence in the doorway of one of the many vacant stores in the neighborhood.

      Hopefully these shelters also provide services to the residents so that they can become financially self-sufficient and receive medical care as necessary. These should be stopping points on the road to self-sufficiency, not permanent residences, and I think/hope that most of the people moving in feel the same way.

      • B.B. says:

        There are many reasons why eviction rates are still “high”; and not all of them are due to greedy or whatever landlords.

        At the end of the day it comes down to economics; if people cannot pay their rent, they will be evicted sooner or later.

        For many wage growth even with new minimum increases still is out paced by inflation/rising COL.

        BdeB’s administration has been handing out millions in “one shot deal” loans (many will never be repaid, and some get several), but even that often just prolongs the enviable.

        What many need is low, low income housing. That is in short supply and efforts by city barely have made a dent.

        Yes, “affordable” housing has been built, but looking at income guidelines for many buildings rents still consume one-third or more of a household’s take home income.

        Even with RS or whatever once rent hits $1000 per month even a one percent increase means $120 more a year. That may not seem like much but to some it eats into whatever wage increases they have received.

    4. Kenny says:

      Imagine the property value of the buildings around this shelter…buh-bye value UWS-ers! Think better next time when you cast a vote for your politicians.

      • dannyboy says:

        Really? It’s the effect on real estate values that’s the problem here?

        Are these The New Upper West Side Values?

      • Sarah says:

        Yes, your property value is definitely the most important thing, your guiding star, your bedrock principle.

        People sure aren’t embarrassed to show the ugliness in their souls anymore.

    5. Spence Halperin says:

      Good decision.

    6. J.Hartmann says:

      There are so many smaller empty/abandoned buildings throughout the Upper Westside, why doesn’t the city consider these as well. High concentrations of needy families in one area doesn’t help anyone. The city also needs to guarantee that they will provide space in the building for social service offices that will directly service the needs of the families.

      • ben says:

        from the ease-of-management perspective, I can see why a high concentration of homeless families in one building is better than half a dozen of these building scattered throughout.

    7. Laprincess says:

      I find it amazing how people can exalt themselves to think that they themselves can never become homeless when,and while we’re living in this world today! I have read some of the comments here,and find it just heartless on how people judge other people,without fully knowing all of what happened to these many families who are homeless today! The homeless shelter system is no “joyride” to obtaining a temporary place to stay,until they can find suitable housing. Many may be homeless because of slumlords, buildings being condemned,fires, domestic violence,the racism and socioeconomics that still effects where people of color and others who get marginalized in the same category,can and may work,and live,and the list goes on. Also,this story should be a forewarning to all about how this city’s current administration mishandles it’s affairs and business dealing practices. Why are so many families homeless when there’s many new buildings put up all around the city,but still nowhere to help these people secure a new place to live as these places aren’t affordable as alleged,and the mayor and some city council members are incompetent when it comes to matters like these talked about in these articles. Thus, don’t pass any unfair judgements without having all the facts of the matter,and all sides to this or any other story, because you simply don’t know enough to judge and condemn ours for what maybe someone else’s,or something else that mitigates these homeless peoples’ lives, children,and our communities as a whole! No one just wants to be homeless,period. Now, please ponder and consider these things,yo all whole reads this comment. Have an excellent day!

      • Kenny says:

        You become homeless you move to a lower cost place, you don’t have to live in the heart of Manhattan

        • dannyboy says:

          Manhattan is not a gated community for the wealthy only.

          But there are gated communities outside cities for wealthy elitists.

          • Juan says:

            dannyboy, I tend to agree with you on this in theory, but he also has a point. Why do you think so many people retire to Florida? Yes, the weather has a big impact on the decision, but the lower cost of living there also makes a big difference – this was a driving factor for many of my relatives who retired there.

    8. Buddy Revell says:

      With several supportive housing units already on this block, the joke is on property owners and market price renters.

      • dannyboy says:

        See my Reply to Kenny (Thread #5) above.

        • Buddy Revell says:

          Dannyboy,

          Do you have a skin in the game? Have you spent your whole life playing by the rules, making smart decisions, saving money, and sacrificing so that you could own a place to call your own? How would you feel if the decades of personal sacrifice get compromised by an overfilled homeless shelter installed next store. You can turn a blind eye to the problems that come with such a shelter, but the market will not. Half the damn block is now supportive housing!

          • dannyboy says:

            THE MARKET!

            I stand by my comment: “Really? It’s the effect on real estate values that’s the problem here?

            Are these The New Upper West Side Values?” and you have proved me correct citing THE MARKET as the problem here. Not your neighbor needing a place to live, but your expected return on investment!

            I will give your Reply more credit than it deserves to try to help you understand VALUES.

            Yes, I do have skin in the game. I am 4th generation NYCer. My children live here (and needed to buy apartment, rather than having the opportunity to continue living with the generations of people who they grew up with).

            And YES, I “have you spent [my] whole life playing by the rules, making smart decisions, saving money, and sacrificing. I did this to help others as well as myself. Do you even grasp this concept?

            When you conclude that “You can turn a blind eye to the problems that come with such a shelter, but the market will not.” I shudder. Do you even see these neighbors when you look at them, or do you marginalize them? You can take your Market and live with yourself.

    9. B.B. says:

      Have said this before, and will do so again; the west side from roughly Chelsea through UWS and onto Harlem has an abundance of these old residential or other hotels.

      Back at turn of last century they may have been luxury or top rated, but as years went on they moved down to budget and or fleabag status. Many were torn down, but those that remained largely became SROs or otherwise low income/formerly homeless/supportive housing.

      Problem for many of these places is now city has made it very difficult to obtain a change of zoning/ C of O that would allow property to become residential.

      Only way left for owners of these properties then to make money is to get into bed with city and make them into homeless shelters. City pays owners of these properties vastly higher rates than they could get as a hotel.

    10. Sherman says:

      I’m curious about the new homeless shelter on “Billionaire’s Row” on 57th Street.

      Many of the apartments in these new Uber-luxury buildings are not selling. Developers are offering incentives and lowering prices in order to unload these apartments.

      Having a homeless shelter on 57th Street will likely not help matters.

      I mean, who would want to spend millions of dollars on an apartment that is near a homeless shelter?

      • B.B. says:

        Park Savoy hotel is on 58th street, not 57th.

        While not exactly at fleabag status, before closing the place was at best a budget tourist hotel. Saving grace was the mid-town location which had Central Park two blocks north, theatre district and Carnegie Hall to south, and Lincoln Center/performing areas area to the west. Oh and then the shopping of Fifth, Madison and onto Bloomindales to east.

        Still the owners are making far more from this city contract than they ever could per year as a hotel.

        • Jen says:

          I think most people are aware that shelter owners have lucrative contracts. It is not the point of this article though. We are talking about homeless population and current building residents issues, not how much money the landlord get or the ways to convert shelters to residential status.

          Glad to see your posts becoming a bit shorter, it became very difficult to scroll through them to get to the rest of the comments.

    11. Denaliboy says:

      I must live in an alternate uws universe/city. Approximately 60-80% of the homeless are suffering from mental illness and/or substance abuse. As someone who has lived in nyc for many decades the number and character of street people strikes me as appciably different than in the past. Though nyc is clearly better than in the 70s and 80s the number and severity of of those on the street is staggering, from the urine soaked on the subway to the screaming men on broadway. I resent the false characterization of the shelters filled with Ozzie and Harriet families who’ve just had a bad break, otherwise they are just like us. Sure there are some hard working families that have fallen on hard times and need assistance. However, to describe those that live in the 90s amid shelters as whiners and complainers who are reactionary is false. Walk around Riverside at night, deal with all the panhandlers and. Crazies. Hard to have a whole lot of sympathy. The city is not going to hell in a hand basket but life ain’t what it used to be. The city is less safe, less pleasant . Anyone who thinks shelters will “cure” mental illness and substance abuse is not playing with a full deck

      • UWS Joe says:

        Everything you wrote is true.

        The very reasonable issue people have with this shelter is that it’s one thing to put 10-20 homeless people in a building or on a block. Most people wouldn’t have a problem with that.

        But putting 220!!!! in one building on a small block like on 94th puts a big burden on the neighborhood. It burdens the schools and it burdens the local services.

        Has nothing been learned from the horrific failure of concentrating poverty in huge public housing projects?

      • dannyboy says:

        I DO live in the 90s and ENJOY THE NEIGHBORHOOD.

        Denaliboy wrote: ” Hard to have a whole lot of sympathy. The city is not going to hell in a hand basket but life ain’t what it used to be. The city is less safe, less pleasant. ”

        AND I DO FEEL SYMPATHY for the less fortunate. Just because life isn’t all “what it used to be” and “less pleasant” doesn’t justify disparaging YOUR NEIGHBORS who need a hand.

      • The old gray mare says:

        You’re right. I live very close to the shelters and I have seen the deterioration first hand. I saw the super of Pomander Walk in the street, with his arm slashed open, lying at the end of a long trail of blood. I have been frequently accosted by a mentally ill man screaming “faggot!” at me over and over again at the top of his lungs, then screaming “Jew!” or some other epithet over and over again to the next person to walk by. I see people urinating, and even defecating, on the sidewalk and in the street. I see drug deals in front of Bar Thalia. I daily run the gauntlet of panhandlers on Broadway between 93rd and 97th streets. It’s one thing to have a fair share of homeless shelters, but quite another to become a dumping ground for the city’s mentally ill and antisocial population. It is ruining the neighborhood. Everybody knows it, but nobody in power cares.

    12. Rob G. says:

      Perhaps you folks that are so quick with your schmaltzy guiltspeak can come up here and help us manage the problems that come with having so many supportive facilities clustered in such a small area.

      You’re the same people that pretended that the disastrous Freedom House never caused an issue for its neighbors. And you’re the same people that turn your blind eyes to the scores of people, with issues ranging from drug addiction to behavioral problems that pour out of the shelters to panhandle or roam our streets. And FYI the vast majority are brought in from other neighborhoods. We can’t even manage what we have already.

      I suppose it’s a moot point, as the city and DHS is determined to keep loading up the West 90s with shelters, but you need to understand the situation before you try to guilt everyone into being good boys and girls.

      • Keith says:

        No. Some of these posters have been carrying this line of guilt baiting for years in the comment section one in particular comes to mind.

        There is no way to convince them that any particular neighborhood should have a measured number of supportive housing. Attempting to try and point out facts like the neighborhood has a disproportionate density of public housing.

        Or that there is an abundance of panhandlers and folks with obvious mental and health needs wandering the streets in a noticable volume.

        Or that the folks that get puts in these supportive facilities aren’t really our neighbors because many of them are relocated to these facilities from other places in the greater NYC.

        It doesn’t matter.

        You will be accused of just being a heartless money grubbing capitalist who just doesn’t want to see homeless people and any volume of supportive housing in your neighborhood will never be enough to patch the bleeding heart.

        • dannyboy says:

          “Or that the folks that get puts in these supportive facilities aren’t really our neighbors because many of them are relocated to these facilities from other places in the greater NYC.”

          And where did you come from “neighbor”? How many generations have you invested in the schools, housing and community?

          I gotta love the close: “…will never be enough to patch the bleeding heart.” Hey…your Right wing is showing.

          • Keith says:

            I with my middle class income looked at neighborhoods in New York and chose to live in the uws because I felt I related to the neighborhood and it’s values. I volunteer at riverside park and within the community. I made a conscious decision to invest my time and yes financial investment here. I was not “put here” because a city government decided this is the place it could subsidize public housing.

            I am a left leaning liberal who also volunteers at homeless kitchens and works with elderly aids patients through the lgbt community center. Most would not categorize me as so right wing nut like you do so casually.

            I do however recognize that placing any class to densely in pockets of a city creates greater class disparities and disfunction than what perhaps the altruistic intent is.

            If you can’t discuss these types of perspectives in a courteous and productive way it is difficult to make headway.

      • dannyboy says:

        “Perhaps you folks that are so quick with your schmaltzy guiltspeak can come up here” BUT ROB G. WE ARE UP HERE!

        “…but you need to understand the situation before you try to guilt everyone into being good boys and girls.” THERE IS NO NEED TO FEEL GUILTY. JUST BE NEIGHBORLY, TRY TO SEE THINGS FROM THESE FOLK’S PERSPECTIVE, AND OFFER A HAND UP.

        • Kenny says:

          @dannyboy: your level of compassion is moving and I am trying to level with you here. Maybe you are right. I would gladly meet and go together to start lending a helping hand to those families with children in the shelters. What holds me back, however—and where my skepticism come from—is that the families with children may only be a minority and the rest are criminals and drug addicts that the politicians didn’t know what to do with and shipped them to our neighborhood. Would really like to engage in a dialogue with you and test out where the truth lies. Thanks

          • J says:

            Kenny,
            If it is truly a family shelter, then it will house only families with children, not single adults. The City’s Department of Homeless Services contracts with non- profits to run family shelters.
            In any event, the Community Board or Councilperson’s office should be able to provide info.

            BTW the JCC has volunteer tutoring programs serving children in underserved public schools.

    13. B.B. says:

      Some people it seems are never happy.

      Fact, The Alexander Hotel has a certificate of occupancy as an “SRO type residential hotel”, something the city makes difficult to change.

      Owner of said hotel previously ticked local residents off by using property as a tourist/extended stay hotel. They moaned to city/local politicians to put an end to that, which they did.

      The building is what it is, and thus however you slice things you’re going to get a transient population.

      • dannyboy says:

        B.B Your fact-based Comment adds to the discussion, so thank you for that. I don’t know how you gather so much real estate-related info, but keep it up!

    14. J says:

      Is the Alexander shelter a family shelter – serving families with children?

    15. J says:

      FYI:
      WSR readers may be surprised, but in fact, in family shelters, there is a sizeable number of families with working parents. People in low wage jobs do become homeless – nursing home aides, office building cleaning staff, security guards, cashiers at Trader Joe’s, etc. Ask around and I think you’ll see.

      I know that at least a few of my kids’ classmates at a very selective public school had been in homeless shelters. One of my staff lost her apartment after her husband left; she could not afford rent and child care etc on her own. And the long home-work commute meant she was always late for work and late picking up the kids in the evening.

      Families lose housing because the rent has been increased. Or the apartment became uninhabitable. Or the family was temporarily doubled or tripled up with relatives and no longer able to stay.
      No matter the reason for the housing loss, there is no affordable housing to be found.