Plan to House Disabled Men in Luxe Condos Rejected Again

By Jeff Mays on February 3, 2012 7:45am 

HARLEM — They said they'd reconsider their opposition, but a Central Harlem community board has voted against a proposal to house seven developmentally disabled men in its neighborhood.

Community Board 10 voted Wednesday against letting the non-profit  Community Options buy luxury condos on Lenox Avenue to convert into group homes for seven men. The vote was split 11 in favor, 16 against with two abstentions.

The group had wanted to purchase two three bedroom condominiums at Savoy West, located at 555 Lenox Ave for $500,000 each.

After initially rejecting the plan because they felt Central Harlem had enough "special interest" housing facilities, such as drug treatment centers, halfway houses and group homes, Community Options requested a hearing before the commissioner of the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.

The hearing process is laid out under Padavan's Law, which passed in the 1970s to help guide the placement of supportive housing after a federal order to deinstitutionalize the developmentally disabled.

But CB 10 cancelled it, saying they wanted to reconsider their opposition and their 2008 moratorium against approving additional "special interest" housing.

The board has said they have nothing against the disabled men or Community Options, but it's concered by what it feels is an oversaturation of similiar facilities in their neighborhood.

Members of Community Options said they expected CB 10's support.

"I'm surprised and dissapointed. That's all I can say," said Eileen Egan, regional vice president for Community Options New York.

CB 10 Chair Henrietta Lyle could not be reached for comment.

Egan has said it is an error to group the seven developmentally disabled men, who range in age from 17 to 22, in the same category as methadone clinics, halfway houses or large nursing homes. The young men slated to live in the Lenox Avenue condos do not have criminal records or drug addiction issues.

The men would have been out working or attending special education programs during the day. There would have been three aides on site to assist the men, including at least one 24-hour attendant.

"I think that there are some people that do get it and some people that don't," said Egan.

In addition to an over-saturation of "special interest" housing, the board was also upset that Community Options did not speak to the condominium board before inking the contracts and coming before the board.

Although they are not required to seek approval from the condominium board, CB 10 thought it would have been the neighborly thing to do.

Community Options and Savoy West's sponsor have since met with the board.

Egan said she does not believe there is an over-saturation of housing similar to what they are planning on Lenox Avenue. There are 20 group homes run by the state and non-profits in the zip codes that make up Central Harlem, according to the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.

Instead, it is the typical "Not in My Backyard" issues that the group faces anywhere they try to place housing, said Egan.

Sponsor Joseph Tahl, a developer who also owns 900 other apartments in Harlem, has said rejecting the plan was discriminatory

"You have this type of supportive housing in every neighborhood in the community," he said.

Egan said she is likely to request another hearing before the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, but is still hoping to change the minds of some community board members.

"I hope they will come to meet these young men and embrace them," said Egan.

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