Board members approve moratorium on homeless shelters
The anticipated addition of a new shelter in Mott Haven stirred up two fiery meetings of Community Board 1, whose members say the neighborhood can’t handle any more homeless facilities or support services for transients.
Board members blasted two representatives from the city’s Department of Homeless Services at a May 30 meeting, arguing that the area around E. 138th St. near Bruckner Boulevard is already saturated with shelters and services for drug users who destabilize the area and bring down property values. Jackson Avenue LLC, the owners of the lot on 711 E. 140th St., first applied for a permit to build a hotel on the site three years ago, before quietly changing plans to build a shelter instead.
Then, after a contentious June 13 meeting with the director of the Acacia Network, the non-profit organization that has vied to manage the proposed facility, the board unanimously passed a moratorium on new shelters in the district.
At the May 30 meeting, Alex Zablocki of homeless services contended that the city administers only six shelters in and around Mott Haven, a number that he said makes Community Board 1 fifth out of the Bronx’s 12 community districts. His agency would not be involved in running the new shelter on 140th St., he told the board, and is not responsible for other support services, such as the area’s many methadone clinics.
The proposed shelter would have capacity for 76 homeless families, and sits adjacent to another facility for the homeless.
But board member Walter Nash angrily told Zablocki the homeless department and other city agencies should communicate with one another more effectively to better monitor the problems in neighborhoods where social service groups and city agencies run numerous facilities.
“You don’t know that they lied to us,” Nash said of the proposed shelter’s owner.
Arline Parks, chair of the board’s housing committee and CEO of Diego Beekman Mutual Housing Association, told Zablocki the city was wrong to conclude from their data analysis that Mott Haven is not overrun with support services.
“I can’t even attract working families to the area because the first thing they say is ‘I can’t live in that area because it’s too saturated with shelters,’” said Parks.
Earlier, Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack, commanding officer of the 40th Precinct station house on Alexander Avenue, told the board that the area’s many methadone clinics contribute to the rising crime rate, but added they would be nearly impossible to get rid of.
“Methadone clinics make a lot of money,” McCormack said, adding, “They’ve got a lot of lawyers. You better get the President of the United States if you want to get them out of here.”
After the meeting, Nash, who lives around the corner from the proposed shelter, said he suspected that Jackson Avenue LLC had tried to deceive residents when making its initial proposal for a hotel in the troubled area five years ago, and that Acacia is looking to profit from the deception.
“Who the hell builds a hotel in the middle of a drug-infested area?” he said, adding that placing shelters in low-income neighborhoods is a “cash crop” for the city. He added he has been urging the community board to take action against shelter saturation around his block, in vain.
Developers and non-profits that serve the homeless profit handsomely from the city’s policy of paying too much for them, Nash said.
“Everybody knows, if you want to make money, you don’t build permanent housing, you build a shelter,” he said.
At the June 13 meeting, board members vented their anger at Acacia’s director, Raul Russi, who was the city’s probation commissioner under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Russi, who came to request a letter of support for the project, told the board his organization stands to earn $3.5 million from the city annually for three years for running the shelter and providing mental health and job services for its residents.
Acacia made nearly $22 million in 2010.
“Everybody comes here to make money,” said board member Lucas Henriquez. “Nobody gives us anything. All we’ve got are shelters, especially on that corner.”
Russi’s contention that an existing Acacia-run shelter on 138th St. has not caused problems in the neighborhood provoked angry shouts of “that’s not true” from the board.
When board members and residents told Russi that Mott Haven unduly bears the burden of hosting shelters for the homeless from all over, Russi countered that almost all of Acacia’s residents are “from right here in this community. The reality is that they’re there now, and somebody has to work with that.”
Homeowner Leslie Lyga echoed others at the meeting, who argued that the mayor’s policy of rewarding landlords for converting residential buildings to shelters is the key problem.
“I don’t blame you, you’re just looking at real estate that somebody said is available” she told Russi, adding residents wanted to buy condos in the building, believing they were for sale, “but they never even tried to sell them.
“I just don’t understand why we never have a say in anything that happens in our own neighborhood,” she added.
This story was updated on July 22.
5 thoughts on “Community Board 1 says developer lied”
Thanks Joe Hirsch for bringing out these important issues that are not covered in the corporate media.
I knew this was going to be a shelter when construction began – if it looks and smells like a shelter…it is another shelter. For years that building was available and no one took it up – not even a charter school. Now its a shelter, shame on the leadership that approved the project without question. They knew it was not going to be a hotel and looked the other way.
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