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Upper West Side Locals 'Ambushed' by Homeless Housing, Pols Say

By Emily Frost | August 7, 2012 5:37pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — With groups of homeless adults now arriving for emergency shelter at 316 and 330 West 95th Street as part of an emergency measure by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), Upper West Side elected officials are scrambling to halt the move, which could bring up to 400 homeless adults into the two buildings.

The first handful of homeless residents moved in last night, joining a community of permanent low-income residents who are increasingly nervous about their new neighbors. Many current residents who returned home from work last night to find NYPD officers stationed outside their doors and in cars surrounding the building and felt alarmed at the perceived need for extra security.

"The community was ambushed," said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who was among the critics who blasted the move as "unfair and unsustainable."

Rosenthal said that DHS has moved homeless adults into these buildings before, but said the plan was shortsighted because it disrupts existing single-room occupancy tenants by providing an incentive for the landlord, Alan Lapis, to accept emergency tenants at up to $3,000 a month from the city, compared to between $300 to $700 a month in rent from permanent low-income residents.

State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Councilwoman Gale Brewer also criticized DHS Tuesday morning for its poor planning and lack of transparency.

"[DHS], you have blown it big time," said Stringer, who said he was angry that neighbors and elected officials were not consulted and that DHS used its emergency powers to push the decision through the Comptroller's Office in May.

After multiple infractions and a $600,000 lawsuit, "we're turning around and giving this landlord a pot of gold," said Stringer.

The extra police presence concerned Brewer, who said the lack of clear plans around security would mean "we as citizens will have to subsidize the block with extra police." 

Masako Koga, 48, who has lived at 316 West 95th Street for ten years said that there were several new security guards placed in the building last night.

Koga hoped the guards would be better than those placed in the building the last time DHS created temporary homeless housing in the building, from November 2009 to July 2011. 

Back then, said Koga, "the security guards were having parties in the hallway."

Koga. "I felt very unsafe. I couldn't relax." 

Aaron Biller, president of the Upper West Side Neighborhood in the Nineties group said members are thinking seriously about reinstating an overnight block watch, which they used when crime was more serious in the 1990s. 

"We're going to have to provide our own security," said Biller. 

Directly across the street from the new shelter is the elementary school PS 75. Espaillat said parents from the school were not consulted by DHS.

DHS spokeswoman Heather Janik said in a statement that the department has been "actively communicating with elected officials from the beginning of this process and engaged in an open dialogue with community leaders, and will maintain positive relations with residents in the surrounding neighborhood.”