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Neighborhood Group Files Lawsuit Against City Over UWS Shelter

By Emily Frost | August 28, 2013 6:50am | Updated on August 29, 2013 12:29pm
 The group is calling for the shelters on West 95th Street to be closed. 
Neighborhood in the Nineties Files Lawsuit Against the City
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UPPER WEST SIDE — A local advocacy group has filed a lawsuit demanding the city halt the operation of a controversial homeless shelter on West 95th Street that it claims has led to an increase in crime and seedy activity in the area.

The shelter, known as "Freedom House," which opened last July as emergency housing for hundreds of adults, violates both the City Charter by being in an area with an abundance of social-service facilities and the city's Administrative Code that limits the size of shelter to 200 people, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday by Neighborhood in the Nineties

The suit goes into detail about the alleged disturbances the shelter has caused the neighborhood — from "an increase in felony and misdemeanor assaults, petit larcenies and rapes" to "knife point robberies," public urination and drug use, as well as tenants sleeping in the school playground across the street from Riverside Park when they miss curfew.

"[The Department of Homeless Services] has received 300 complaints from local residents about individuals trespassing or sleeping in the park and DHS has denied responsibility for every one of them," the suit says.

The suit — which names the DHS, Comptroller John Liu and the shelter's service provider Aguila — cites the shelter's presence in an "over-saturated" neighborhood, "the nuisances" it has caused, its cost and the expiration in February of its "emergency" contract.  

Last month, Liu rejected a new $46.8 million contract between Aguila and the DHS that would last through June 2018, though the shelter remains open. 

Neighborhood in the Nineties, a nonprofit that represents residents and retailers between West 90th and 97th streets, claims the city is violating the Fair Share doctrine that's part of the charter and protects against one area carrying an undue burden in providing housing and services. 

"There are 30 [social-services] facilities in the surrounding square half mile from [the shelter] which thereby constitutes an undue concentration of facilities that was ignored by the City," the suit charges.

The group also finds the price of the shelter "unreasonable," at a cost to the city of up to $3,700 a month for a shared room without a kitchen or bathroom, the suit states. 

Aguila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokeswoman from the city's Law Department, speaking on behalf of DHS, said the shelter provides "social services, housing assistance, security, and a clean, safe place for men and women in need to get back on their feetWe are confident that it meets all applicable laws, and we will evaluate the claims and respond to them at the appropriate time." 

Liu responded that the administration's homeless policy has "failed completely" when asked to comment on the suit.

"We need to get things back on track by restoring a sense of dignity for the homeless, stopping the waste of taxpayer funds and engaging transparently with neighborhoods asked to accept more than their fair share of shelters," his office said in a statement.