N90s Wins Restraining Order Against NYC
Shelter Move-ins Limited To 100 For Now
In the first step in its lawsuit against The Alexander shelter, 306 West 94th Street, Neighborhood In The Nineties, supported by the building’s SRO tenants, won a partial Temporary Restraining Order which will limit the size of the shelter to 100 people until a hearing on January 29th and will prevent the landlord from evicting or interfering with the occupancy rights of the SRO tenants.
The first move-ins are scheduled for late Thursday, December 20th. The shelter originally planned to move in 220 homeless people.
Stewart Wurtzel, partner in Tane Waterman Wurtzel PC, represented N90s in the State Supreme Court action. The TRO request is the first step in a complete legal action to oppose siting the shelter in The Alexander.
CIty Fails To Follow Own Laws
The primary legal argument is that the City has failed to comply with multiple procedures, including Fair Share and the fact that the building has moved walls, wires, plumbing and even removed its heating plant all without the approval of an architect or engineer. None of this work was registered with the Department of Buildings. In addition to questions about interior safety, one hallway has no direct access to a fire escape.
Shelters Kill SRO Housing
The compelling moral and policy argument is the City’s heartless destruction of SRO housing and the living environments of SRO tenants.
“Imagine coming back to your apartment, and now you have to go through a metal detector?” asks N90s president Aaron Biller. “Then you must negotiate your way through new neighbors who may suffer from mental health disorders, alcohol and drug addiction or a combination of all three. About a third of the residents at the Alexander shelter were homeless people from Freedom House who were not placeable in permanent housing.
“The City and Praxis now say they will develop a program to protect the SRO tenants,” Mr. Biller reports. “They are a little late. This is a public relations tactic which responds to pressure from our lawsuit. Locating a shelter in an SRO building always results in making life hell for SRO tenants. But it doesn’t stop the City, which has never insisted on protecting tenants in shelter buildings. Shame on them.”
Further compromising living conditions for residents are the building violations which urgently need to be addressed. The change of use to a shelter requires compliance with modern building code.
Fair Share Report Issued After Site Is Selected
The Fair Share report justifying the selection was released two months after the shelter was announced and failed to consider the impact of the high concentration facilities in the immediate neighborhood. We did not receive the Fair Share report until after we commenced our lawsuit and served papers on the city. Of course, the Fair Share report that was issued pays short shrift to the realities of our neighborhood. West 94th Street already has close to 200 residential facility beds serving the homeless at the St. Louis/Rustin (319 West 94th) and the HPD Shelter (308 West 94th, adjoining the Alexander at 306). There are 10 more shelters and facilities that serve homeless populations within a half mile of the property, including the Veterans’ Residence at 330 West 95th Street. That means there are three facilities with nearly 400 beds within 400 feet of the Alexander.
According to the New York Times, there are more than 1,000 homeless individuals housed on the Upper West Side above what the community produces. In total, the UWS houses close to 4,000 homeless individuals in various facilities. See link to map:
The Times map shows that this unfair concentration of sited facilities is exacerbated by the fact that nearly all are situated between 92nd and 110th Streets. By comparison, Staten Island has but one shelter, and residential facilities for homeless clients are rarely sited on the Upper East Side or in many neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn.
Freedom House on 95th Street clearly had a negative impact on the community, motivating concerned neighbors to organize and fund a $100K guard program to help combat loitering, drug dealing and petty crime. Now, the city is creating an even larger facility (220 vs. 200 beds) with the same population, just one block away.
Rosenthal Betrays Community
Our City Council Member, Helen Rosenthal, has been less than forthcoming about the nature and number of beds in this facility. She abrogated a promise from the City that there would be community input in selecting a new vendor for Freedom House and in January, dissolved the Community Advisory Board that met monthly to monitor the situation. And, while Ms. Rosenthal encourages the community to give the new operators “a chance,” the five-year contract locks in the vendor with no input from the community at all.
We ask: Why choose a building with such a perilous track record? Why pick a shelter site on a block that already serves close to 200 homeless city clients in two problematic facilities? Why was the community not consulted prior to choosing the location? Why would the city use a building owned by an individual whose lack of maintenance on a nearby building result in the death of a two-year old which prompted the city to bring criminal charges against the Alexander’s owner. There is no evidence that any greater attention to maintenance was paid to this building.
The Mayor’s Homelessness Plan two years ago called for “redistribution” of facilities closer to where homeless people and their families come from. The Mayor’s plan also recommends keeping homeless people sheltered within their home borough.
The City Charter Fair Share regulations were developed because the people who drafted the rules recognized that City agencies tend to concentrate facilities in a few vulnerable neighborhoods.
Brad Lander, a City Council Member, in the City Council’s report on Fair Share two years ago urged that City agencies violating Fair Share should receive penalties for the kind of behavior we now see from the City’s Department of Homeless Services.
The shelter’s most immediate impact will be on the Alexander’s SRO tenants, some of whom are one step from being homeless. Fragile SRO tenants need security. They should not wait for the City to invent a program after the homeless move-in.
But while the City writes a program protecting SRO tenants, why stop there? Why not write a program to protect a neighborhood flooded by the same population that created street conflict at the former Apple Shelter and Freedom House? Perhaps they can consider the impact of the St. Louis/Rustin House and the HPD homeless shelter on the same block. They would have to drop the semantical, farcical distinction between homeless people with serious mental health and addiction issues placed in buildings that are little more than mental health warehouses, and shelters.
Unite and Fight!
We are at the beginning of a long fight. We have been down this road before and won several times.
The neighborhood needs even more people to join the fight. The government and our politicians listen when we show up in numbers. They listen when we raise money and raise our voices to force them to do the right thing.
Our neighbors need security. Since the shelter was announced, a dedicated group of neighbors has joined us at City Contract Hearings, court proceedings, and at Community Board 7, where we won a resolution opposing the shelter 30 to 4. It is time to stand united and fight back!
The safety and quality of life of our neighborhood is critical.
Please Do Your Share! Support the lawsuit!
Donate to Neighborhood In The Nineties Legal Fund. Checks may be mailed to: Neighborhood in The Nineties Legal Fund, Suite 1B, 310 West 94th Street, New York, NY 10025-6868, or visit www.N90s.org and click on the DONATE button.
Metal Detectors Installed For New Homeless Residents At The Alexander:
Learn more about the City’s Dubious Approach To Housing The Homeless: