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Controversial UWS Homeless Shelter Searches for New Management Company

By Nicole Levy | April 24, 2017 9:07am
 Freedom House is a
Freedom House is a "source of open drug dealing, crime, mayhem, aggressive panhandling and noise," according to a Neighborhood in the 90s newsletter. .
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

UPPER WEST SIDE — The landlord of a controversial homeless shelter is searching for a new operator, according to multiple sources.

RB Estates LLC, the owner of the property where Freedom House is located at at 316 West 95th Street, has decided to find a replacement for its current service provider, Aguila Inc., a Department of Homeless Services spokesman confirmed Friday.

Any new service provider must obtain approval from the Department of Homeless Services, the agency spokesman said, and DHS "will review any provider the landlord selects with the main goal of improving services for all," the spokesman said in an email.

The nonprofit has a $16 million contract with the city to operate the shelter through the end of June 2018.

While DHS refused to address the company's motivations, Freedom House has drawn complaints from nearby residents since it opened across the street from P.S. 75 and M.S. 250 in 2012.

In a newsletter to members of the advocacy group Neighborhood in the 90s, president Aaron Biller described the shelter as a "source of open drug dealing, crime, mayhem, aggressive panhandling and noise."

In May 2014, police raided the building because of a spike in crimes like burglaries and car break-ins to shelter residents, removing 22 individuals with outstanding arrest warrants.

"There is no question that Freedom House is poorly run," Biller said in a phone interview. "We've given them a very, very long chance."

Aguila did not respond to a request for comment.

Biller said he first became aware of the landlord's search for a new service provider at a meeting about the shelter called earlier this month by Upper West Side council member Helen Rosenthal and attended by Daniel Tietz, chief special services officer at the city's Human Resources Administration. The search was first reported by West Side Rag.

The community will have input in selecting a replacement, according to Biller.

"The community board, Neighborhood in the 90s and other interested parties will have a chance to vet, to review the choices," he said. "We're looking for people that understand the concept of what a shelter program is ... Shelters are not permanent housing."

RB Estates LLC, which is listed in reports as being run by the Podolsky family, could not be reached for comment. State documents indicate that the CEO of holding company VCORP Agent Services is John Weber, who also serves as president of Wolters Kluwer Legal Information Services, a group of three business including CT Corporation.

"CT Corporation acts as a registered agent on behalf of businesses registered with the Secretary of State for the purpose of a physical address to accept legal papers and official tax documents," a company spokesperson said in response to an email inquiry about RB Estates' motivations for changing shelter service providers. "You have contacted the incorrect company for assistance with your request."