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Concourse Residents Question New Homeless Housing in 'Over-Saturated' Area

By Patrick Wall | June 13, 2012 9:22am
Frederick Shack, executive director of Urban Pathways, detailed his agency's plan to create housing for formerly homeless adults with mental illness on East 162nd Street at a meeting of Community Board 4 members.
Frederick Shack, executive director of Urban Pathways, detailed his agency's plan to create housing for formerly homeless adults with mental illness on East 162nd Street at a meeting of Community Board 4 members.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

CONCOURSE VILLAGE —A new facility for formerly homeless adults with mental illness could hurt local property values and impact safety in an area that's already "inundated" with social service agencies, residents said at a meeting with the developer Monday.

Nonprofit Urban Pathways, Inc. has proposed building an 80-unit apartment building at 316 East 162nd Street that would combine 55 studio apartments for low-income, formerly homeless adults with mental illness, support services for those residents, and 25 apartments for low-income tenants without special needs.

Preference for the 55 special-needs units would be given to disabled veterans.

At a joint meeting of the housing and human services committees from Community Board 4 Monday evening, several residents said that while they recognized the need for supportive housing for people with mental illness, they had concerns about Urban Pathways’ plan.

“I’m totally in support of it,” said Arlene Hall-Waisburd, a mother of two boys who lives near 167th Street and works in the administration department in the psychiatric wing of a hospital. “But as a parent, as a community member, I’ve just had enough of organizations trying to cluster social service programs in that area.”

Other residents called the area "over-saturated" and "inundated" with social service agencies.

Martha Reyes, the chair of the committee, said the district, which includes High Bridge, Concourse and Concourse Village, is home to 10 homeless shelters, including one three blocks from the proposed Urban Pathways site.

Members also noted that on a map provided by Urban Pathways, the majority of the group’s so-called scatter sites — where special-needs clients live in general-population apartments, but still receive support services — are located in the South Bronx, with just a handful in the other boroughs.

Other residents worried about what one man called “the quicksand effect” on local real estate — that with every new social service agency added to the area, surrounding property values sink a little further.

And others probed the safety of a plan to house residents with mental illnesses in the same building as people without disabilities, all in a neighborhood with schools and family homes.

“Will these people be wandering around the streets at all times of day and night?” asked Betty Crawford, president of the 44th Precinct Community Council.

Urban Pathways, which was founded in 1975, operates housing for homeless and formerly homeless adults in Manhattan, Brooklyn and The Bronx that offer residents treatment for issues including mental illness and substance abuse.

Last November, the group opened a residential building in Tremont and they plan to open another in Morrisania. Plans to construct a similar building in Astoria, Queens, have drawn fierce criticism from community leaders and elected officials there.

At Monday’s meeting, Urban Pathways’ executive director, Frederick Shack, tried to ease residents’ concerns, while also calling for compassion for the clients his agency serves.

He noted that many other organizations mix tenants with different needs in the same housing developments, citing housing run by the nonprofit Common Ground in Manhattan, which combines units for low-income adults, the formerly homeless and people with AIDS.

Defending his program’s mixed-resident model, he offered to provide transportation to anyone who wanted to visit the agency’s supportive housing development on West 46th Street in Manhattan, which has operated since 1997.

“The idea that you would segregate people with mental illness from the general population is one that I have great difficulty with,” Shack said.

He also referred to a 2008 study at New York University that found supportive housing actually raises the value of properties closest to the site, and that properties farther away that lose value regain it within a few years.

Shack promised to work with the community to determine who from the general population should be targeted for the 25 non-special-needs apartments. And he added that the new development would feature 24-hour security, though the staff psychiatrist, nurse and case workers would only be on-site during business hours.

He did, however, say he was “saddened” by some of the group’s concerns, particularly in regards to disabled veterans, such as those with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We ask them to offer so much,” Shack said to the committee members, “but we don’t want to welcome them back into our midst.”