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Homeless Vets to Get Permanent Housing at W. 95th Street Shelter, City Says

By Emily Frost | December 16, 2015 2:54pm
 The city will move homeless veterans into a building that previously housed homeless individuals at 330 West 95th St.
The city will move homeless veterans into a building that previously housed homeless individuals at 330 West 95th St.
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost

UPPER WEST SIDE — The city plans to create new permanent affordable housing for 125 homeless veterans at an existing homeless shelter on West 95th Street, officials said.

The city's Human Resources Administration announced plans to use 330 W. 95th St., currently part of the Freedom House homeless shelter for adults at 316 and 330 W. 95th St., for the new veterans housing. 

The plan envisions veterans moving into the building immediately "so that they can have a home by the holidays" and is part of President Obama's commitment to end homelessness for veterans, which Mayor de Blasio is responding to, explained HRA Deputy Commissioner David Neustadt.

“We are working to preserve the building as permanent affordable housing, not as a shelter," Neustadt said. "We have in fact been talking to local elected officials and the community board and will continue our dialogue with the community so that everyone understands this is about preserving affordable housing, not about a shelter, and about permanent housing for those who served our country."

After years of protests from local residents and elected officials over the temporary emergency housing of 400 homeless adults at 316 and 330 W. 95th St., the Freedom House shelter was reduced to 200 homeless individuals. The buildings also house long-term, single-room occupancy tenants.

The building at 330 W. 95th St. proposed for the permanent veteran housing was emptied of homeless individuals and now only houses rent-regulated tenants, noted former Upper West Side councilwoman and current Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. 

All of the building's current tenants will remain there under the plan, Neustadt said.

The West Side has a lot of veterans who, along with residents, would welcome the new tenants, Brewer said.

But the housing "absolutely has to be permanent; they have to be residents of the West Side permanently," she said.

"I appreciate that the building is being used for permanent affordable housing, not as a shelter, so the residents can become part of our community on the Upper West Side," Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal said.

As part of the plan, HRA will partner with the nonprofits Bailey House and Harlem United so that the veterans have access to supportive services, Neustadt said. It was not immediately clear what those services would entail.

Bailey House and Harlem United did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

"With the right tools in place, permanent affordable housing with supportive services is critical to helping people stay out of shelters. I've met with the service providers who will work with the residents, Bailey House and Harlem United, and I'm confident that they have the experience and capacity to serve our veterans well," said Rosenthal in a statement. 

The advocacy group Neighborhood in the Nineties, which has opposed Freedom House and what it considers the overburdening of the area with needy individuals, has raised a series of concerns about the swiftness of the plan and its details. 

"HRA is a humongous bureaucracy, rudderless without top leadership, and this diminishes their credibility with the community [regarding] 330 West 95th St," said the group's president, Aaron Biller. 

The head of HRA, Steven Banks, has not vacated his position but is overseeing a review of the Department of Homeless Services in addition to his role as HRA commissioner, Neustadt noted.

Biller and his group are concerned about how the nonprofits will meet the needs of the veterans and how they will mix with the existing SRO population. 

"Often, we find electeds whose hearts are in the right places, but fail to recognize that hastily conceived programs fail the people they are supposed to serve, and ultimately hurt the community," he said. 

The Department of Homeless Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the plan. 

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