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Residents Oppose Moving Homeless Shelter into Neighborhood

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., spoke out Thursday at a public hearing against the city's plan to convert a former Bronx military base into a homeless shelter.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., spoke out Thursday at a public hearing against the city's plan to convert a former Bronx military base into a homeless shelter.
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DNAinfo/Patrick Wall

WAKEFIELD — The city moved close to finalizing plans for a homeless shelter at a former Army Reserve building in the Bronx, despite opposition from community leaders who say the area is already oversaturated with shelters.

The Doe Fund, a nonprofit organization based in Manhattan, was selected by the city to develop a 200-bed homeless shelter at the Muller Army Reserve Center, a former military base on Nereid Avenue in Wakefield. The Department of Homeless Services held a public hearing for its proposed contract with the Doe Fund on Thursday, one of the final steps in finalizing a city contract before it gets registered by the Comptroller's Office.

But local leaders have been trying for years to turn the Muller Center space into a new home for the National Guard, which is housed in a building in Kingsbridge known as the Kingsbridge Armory annex (adjacent to the hulking Kingsbridge Armory itself). Once the annex space was freed up, advocates theorized, it could be used to build much-needed schools.

"The schools in the Armory area are generally very overcrowded," said City Councilman Oliver Koppell, who first proposed using the Armory annex several years ago. "There is considerable space, enough to build two new schools or maybe even more."

The problem, though, was where to relocate the National Guard.

"When I first learned that the Army Reserve was moving out, I thought, oh this is perfect, you'll have the space free," Koppell said. He even got the National Guard to agree to the move, he said.

But the city had a different plan. Federal law that regulates the redevelopment of military bases gives preference to facilities that assist the homeless, a City Department of Homeless Services spokeswoman said. So when the city started looking for proposals to fill the space, the Doe Fund's plan came out on top.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., served on a three-member Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA) charged with overseeing the selection process--the other members were two Bloomberg Administration deputy mayors. Diaz contends that the city violated federal requirements because the group never took a formal vote to approve the Doe Fund proposal.

"It is crystal clear that the process that led to this contract before us today was and is flawed, and that all legal evidence indicates that the City has no right to move on this contract since the LRA process has not been completed," Diaz testified at Thursday's hearing.

A DHS spokeswoman said that the LRA followed proper procedure, and that U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development has approved the homeless shelter plan.

Diaz, however, said the entire process was a show.

"It has since become obvious that this administration had no intention of considering this community's input," he said in a statement.

Carmen Rosa, district manager for Community Board 12, where the Muller Center is located, said she and many other community leaders oppose the plan because that immediate area is already the site of two major homeless housing projects--one on nearby White Plains Road and another on Bronxwood Avenue a few blocks away.

"It isn’t that we don’t want our fair share, it isn’t that we don’t want a homeless shelter, but you can't put them all in one area," she said.

"Now you're going to have three within a square mile of each other," Rosa said. "That’s not the way to do it."