By Leslie Albrecht
UPPER WEST SIDE — A city plan to open a 200-bed homeless facility in a West 94th Street hotel drew sharp criticism from local officials at a Sunday rally.
"It is really unfair for the city to put us in a position as though we're turning our backs on homeless people, when it is they who are turning their backs on homeless people," said Rep. Charles Rangel, who lined up with other politicians to skewer a nine-year city contract that will pay non-profit Samaritan Village about $8 million a year to house homeless men at the Hotel Alexander.
Rangel and others want the Hotel Alexander, a single-room occupancy building, to remain as cheap rental housing for low-income working people. They say converting the Alexander into a transitional housing facility will worsen New York's homeless crisis, because it takes affordable housing off the market.
City Councilwoman Gale Brewer said Upper West Siders want to help the homeless, but not by turning the Hotel Alexander into a transitional housing facility.
SRO buildings like the Alexander served as affordable housing on the Upper West Side for years until landlords began converting them into hotels catering to budget tourists.
A new law that goes into effect in May outlaws using SRO buildings for tourist hotels. Now building owners are scrambling to find new uses for their buildings.
"I just need a tenant who can lease the building from me so I can pay my bills," Hotel Alexander owner Alexander Scharf told DNAinfo earlier this month.
Officials charged Sunday that the deal between the Department of Homeless Services and Samaritan Village was made with little community input.
Brewer said the Department of Homeless Services inked the contract with Samaritan Village without realizing that there are about 10 residents who live at the Hotel Alexander.
Among them are Eliuth Garcia, a cook who's lived in the building for 16 years. Garcia said she pays $392 a month for a room that has a bathroom down the hall.
Another resident is Adan Angel, who works as a school cook in Brooklyn and pays $439 a month for his room.
Angel said he had no idea about the new plans for the building until last week when workers began removing the hotel furniture.
"I want a regular building with regular residents," Angel said. "I understand that (homeless) people need a second opportunity, but our family lives here."
Local resident Aaron Biller, president of neighborhood group Neighborhood in the Nineties, said people on W. 94th Street would rather have a tourist hotel than a homeless shelter on the block, but he added that the neighborhood needs affordable housing too.
Biller suggested that SRO buildings like the Alexander could be run as tourist hotels, and building owners could contribute money to an affordable housing fund. "We could use one thing to fund another," Biller said.