Court Rules Men Can Be Moved Out of The Lucerne, But Process May Take Time

The Lucerne.

By Carol Tannenhauser

A state appeals court dismissed a lawsuit brought by three homeless men challenging the city’s right to move them and most of the other residents of The Lucerne Hotel to a shelter downtown.

A four-judge panel from the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York decided unanimously that the issue “is moot, because the [men] have all moved out of the Lucerne and secured separate housing.”

For a while, the housing status of the final petitioner, Ramone Buford, was unclear, with the opposing attorney, Randy Mastro, insisting he had moved out of The Lucerne. Mastro eventually hired private investigators, who photographed Buford in his new apartment. The two other men named in the original suit had previously secured other housing.

The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) said that the decision affirms “our decision-making and strategic planning, especially with regards to shelter capacity and protecting health and safety of the New Yorkers we serve during this emergency period.” By moving the men, the city says they’ll be closer to services like medical care.

But the move may not be imminent. The homeless hotel program is in the process of being phased out and “the Lucerne will be phased out as part of that return-to-shelter plan and these individuals will be included in that plan, rather than relocating twice in a short time period.” Already many residents of the Lucerne have moved or been offered more permanent housing. There are currently around 70 left.

The Lucerne, on 79th Street near Amsterdam Avenue, has served as a shelter since July as part of a city program to move people out of more closely packed shelters where they were vulnerable to Covid infection. Unlike some other hotels-turned-shelters, The Lucerne only housed men and some were enrolled in drug-treatment programs. After their arrival, a Facebook group with more than 10,000 members began advocating for their removal, arguing that quality of life in the neighborhood had gone downhill. A nonprofit called West Side Community Organization (WestCo) also pushed for the men to be moved to another location, which they said would also be better for the men. A group called UWS Open Hearts emerged to support the men and advocate for them to stay.

Mayor de Blasio toured the area in September, and said  what he saw was “not, to me, acceptable.” Shortly afterwards, the city tried to move the men to a Raddison near Wall Street, but lawsuits blocked and delayed the move — until now.

“WestCo’s goal has always been to see the men get the services they need. Now that will happen and that’s a good thing for all concerned,” said Randy Mastro, a lawyer for WestCo, in a statement after the latest ruling.

UWS Open Hearts wrote on Twitter that they were disappointed in the ruling, but called on the city to delay the move so that the remaining men could be placed in permanent housing. The group has worked to set the men up with jobs and other opportunities. “Men at the Lucerne are taking remote classes, and doing work-from-home jobs,” Open Hearts wrote. “They are utilizing on-site services; Drug and alcohol use has substantially dropped vs the congregate setting. To force them back to shelters where they would lose all this progress would be cruel.”

Michael Hiller, who represented the men litigating to stay in the Lucerne said in a statement that “notwithstanding this unfortunate ruling, we won critical victories along the way that have already made a world of difference. The temporary restraining order and stay we obtained from the courts made it possible for approximately 100 men to find homes.”

He also said the attention that The Lucerne drew should benefit people experiencing homelessness.

“In addition, we have the whole city, including all of the major Democratic candidates for mayor, talking about homelessness, affordable housing, its relationship with racial and social injustice, institutional economic inequality, and bringing about citywide change. So, while we may have lost this battle, we are winning the war,” he said.


NEWS | 24 comments | permalink
    1. newcavendish says:

      This is so bizarre. These people are dependents on the public weal. Why can’t the city decide where to put them, as it must maintain them at its expense, without all the waste of time and money implied in endless legal proceedings? If the city is ever to get back on an even fiscal keel and settle down to something like normalcy, this kind of thing has to end.

    2. Leon says:

      I can’t wait to get a final tally of how much was spent on the Lucerne. For the amount that was spent, they all likely could have had mansions in Utica with the best counseling money can buy.

      Meanwhile, we have wasted a year on this and are no closer to a long term solution. And paying hundreds of dollars a night for hotel rooms is not a long term solution. Giving these men a path to self-sufficiency in a cost-effective way should be the goal.

    3. How many of the remaining residents of Lucerne and the other UWS shelter hotels have not been vaccinated against Covid-19?

      • Lisa says:

        “Homeless New Yorker”, I’m not sure why you ask this question. Vaccines are so widely available that there is no excuse for anyone to be unvaccinated. If you are suggesting that vaccinations be given to those seeking shelter, I am in agreement with that.

        • dc says:

          And the vaccines are free of charge.

        • You must agree that it’s a fair question. The city shouldn’t rush to cram unvaccinated people back together. And just because the vaccines are free, we shouldn’t assume that everyone is vaccinated, or will be by the time they will be told to “pack and go”.

    4. Bernice Silverman says:

      I will continue to support U and your free flea market.

    5. Jamie says:

      What is the status of the Belleclaire and Excelsior? Neither are open.

    6. Crankypants says:

      What a fiasco for all parties. A stressful, expensive lesson in bureaucracy …and, sadly, a lesson where no one learned anything.

    7. blacklikeu says:

      Last year, July or August, I wrote here that the homeless will stay at the Lucerne for at least a year.
      Well, it’s almost a year now.
      At $350+ per night, the cost to the city was/is astronomical.
      The $$$ could have been put to use in a wiser manner, but having our free loading politicians in control the answer is –
      who cares?
      Well, we the people should care, and come the next election cycle, we should remember who said and did what, and the corrupt ones should be put out to pasture.

      • Frustrated says:

        This is 100% true and we should all take note. Thank you for this important comment. The amount of money spent the last year could have done amazing things if the right honest people were managing it.

        It’s the officials in charge who can make the difference. God help us, I pray we have much better, smarter, honest elected leaders this coming election who know how to manage such important things as people’s lives and people’s hard earned money.

      • Robert O Johnson says:

        In 2021 if we have learned anything it is that facts matter. At no time did The City of New York pay $350 per night at the Lucerne. Go look it up the contract for all the hotels that The City of New York uses are public records. Mis-information like this does not help the public discourse. Get informed then make a sound judgement.

      • B.B. says:

        Paying for housing homeless in hotels during covid and other disasters is a complicated matter.

        FEMA has funds for doing so to be made available to local governments during covid, but again it’s tricky.

        There is something going on at city hall, and likely BdeB is hearing the noise from local residents about housing homeless in local hotels.

      • cpwpj says:

        So true. We have the opportunity, and duty, to elect experienced officials committed to housing the homeless wisely on June 22. Everyone: GET OUT AND VOTE for the best candidates.

      • SaneInUWS says:

        Hey if you are keeping track of this fiasco created by incompetent governance at all levels, let’s not forget Maya Wiley and Sarah Lindt who got their start at the Lucerne. They found out that they can shout against all other people’s rights and comments, while defending Lucerne as the way for the city to deal with homelessness. It is not that we don’t care for the homeless to be safe and have a way to get back to society, it is that we think spending so much money on something that could have been used in much better ways should be the way to make policies and actions for a functioning society.

        So please if you want to have leaders of this city in government to reduce waste and not to use politicized and misguided rhetoric to run NYC, DO NOT VOTE FOR WILEY OR LINDT.
        Wiley’s  top agenda is to get rid of the police and use all funds left to take care of the homeless. She has not had any other policy discussion on how to run NYC. Is this the kind of leader you want? A leader for not all the people but only a few. A leader who is so lop-sided in policy making and just engages in rhetoric. 

    8. The named homeless intervenors may have been housed, but this doesn’t explain the rights of the remaining residents of #HotelLucerne, or others similarly situated, to be free from #AbusiveShelterTransfers. This should have been a class-action lawsuit from the start. And isn’t it amazing how courts meticulously avoid deciding important issues on the merits? First, the court “has no jurisdiction”, now the case is “moot”. The court should have recognized that this recurring issue typically evades review, and so an exception to mootness applies.

    9. Jan says:

      Maybe a Tiny House Village complete with
      services is looking better snd better as a
      cost effective SOLUTION.
      Up and running in Montana successfully!!!
      Come On NYc get with it!!!

    10. Ian Alterman says:

      I am glad that the temporary residents of the Lucerne got what they wanted: to be able to remain until it was safe to be returned to congregate shelter. The “stay” imposed in December was only ever going to last ~6 months, so there is nothing surprising in this decision. I am just glad that the Court is not going to allow yet another move to another hotel.

      ALL “hotel homeless” will be returned to congregate shelters by the end of June, or early July. That was always the plan, so, again, nothing surprising here.

      • lynn says:

        Any suggestions on how we can help the street homeless that were here pre-Covid and are still camped out in the neighborhood? You had mentioned previously that you spoke to the older man on the corner of 72nd and WEA. Neighbors give him food and necessities and he sleeps next to West End Discount. His mental and physical health are declining rapidly. He’s covered with bites/scabs and he’s becoming increasingly agitated. Most of the time he looks comatose, but the past few weeks he’s been up and down the block cursing and threatening people, which is something he hasn’t done before. If 311 won’t/can’t help him then what is the next step?

        • Lisa says:

          Lynn, call 311 and say that the man appears to be mentally ill, deteriorating rapidly and may not live much longer. Ask them to send a licensed mental health professional out to evaluate. Describe the man and your interactions with him over time. Under Mental Hygiene law 9.58, he can be removed to a safe place for observation and possible treatment “if such person appears to be mentally ill and is conducting himself or herself in a manner which is likely to result in serious harm to the
          person or others.” Source:

        • If he’s covered in bites, he needs a complete change of clothes (or better, two) and a shower. His old clothes should be washed and heat-dried, or tied in a plastic bag and thrown out. Ask him what he wants.

    11. Billy NYC says:

      What a waste of everybody’s time last year all the “he said she said”….The city was going to put them where the city wants to put them all a long. So what’s gonna happen with this ‘ghost hotel’ it will just sit at 79th St. and Amsterdam Avenue now what does the owner have plans for.
      It should be renovated into affordable apartments for students only.