Plan to Move Homeless into UWS Buildings Worries Residents, Pols

By Emily Frost on August 7, 2012 8:38am 

UPPER WEST SIDE — Residents of two Upper West Side low-income apartment buildings will be sharing space with up to 400 homeless people as part of a city program to create emergency shelters.

It's at least the second time the 71 existing residents at 316 and 330 West 95th Street have had to cope with the Department of Homeless Services moving people into the buildings.

In November 2009, 200 homeless men were bused in during the middle of the night as part of a temporary move that only ended in July 2011.

Residents said Monday they were alarmed to find NYPD officers at the entrance to their building. The officers told them they were providing additional security.

One resident said that when the homeless men were living in their buildings between 2009 and 2011, "fights used to happen here all the time. Not once a week, not once a month  all the time."

Area elected officials are alarmed at the lack of clear plans and readiness of a service provider contracted by DHS to provide security and services at the newly created emergency shelter.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal and Community Board 7 Chair Mark Diller held a a closed-door meeting last month with Housing Solutions USA, which holds the contract.

That meeting included Housing Solutions USA executives Cara Pace and Robert Hess, the former DHS Commissioner. They were asked about basic care and security questions, but gave vague and unsatisfactory answers, elected officials said.

"They said they would have robust security, but haven’t hired security guards," said Rosenthal, who joined with other electeds to pen a letter to the DHS commissioner Seth Diamond July 27 to express concerns.

Rosenthal added that the facility is "not equipped to handle people who are chemically addicted or mentally ill," will offer no services on site and "has not hired case workers yet."

“The way this whole situation has transpired is very alarming... It seems like it’s a plan that hasn’t been thought out," said Rosenthal.

Elected officials said they believe DHS overstepped its bounds and did not do enough to consult with the community in creating the two shelters.

“DHS should not use its emergency powers to avoid a thorough vetting of the arrangement with the proposed service provider, nor should it use those powers to avoid any and all dialogue with the community about the proposed plans," they said in the letter.

Community Board 7 member Mel Wymore wasn't comfortable with the level of detail presented in the meeting. "It’s clear that the details of this plan are not yet in place and it’s not clear we’re prepared for this,” he said.

The building is currently home to 71 permanent low-income housing residents, elected officials said. As of last week, none of them had been informed about the incoming homeless population. 

Housing Solutions USA referred all requests to DHS, which didn't respond to requests for comment.

Diller and others are also upset about the loss of the buildings, known as a single-room occupancy facilities or SROs, as permanent affordable housing options once they're converted to emergency homeless housing. 

“SROs are supposed to be permanently affordable housing," said Diller.

"It’s the way that the community remains diverse and the working poor can live near where they work – it’s about the only way."

“[The current residents] are regular working people; some of them are close friends of mine who I’ve known for 30 years,” said Brewer, adding that she’s concerned they’ll have to share common space, like kitchens and bathrooms, with a new population who may suffer from substance abuse addictions or have mental health needs.

The representatives were also concerned over whether the owner was following new regulations that prohibit renting rooms to tourists. In November 2011, the owner of the buildings settled a lawsuit with the city for $600,000, and agreed to stop renting rooms to tourists, for which they could often make $90 a night.

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