Luxury Shelter Town Hall Meeting Leaves More Questions Than Answers
Just a few short months ago, the seemingly delirious rush to develop virtually every available space with market rate housing went bust. A prime example is 1040 East New York Avenue, a private development that found itself empty until the City stepped in to save the developer. 1040 East New York Ave. is now a luxury homeless shelter.
Published reports state the idea of developer Avi Shriki “leasing out his new luxury condo building to a homeless shelter was the furthest thing from his mind.” NYC’s real estate boom created thousands of unsold and vacant units across the city. Shriki’s development faced the same fate – until he signed a 10 year contract with the Bushwick Economic Development Group to turn the building into a homeless shelter, complete with granite countertops, marble bathrooms, walk-in closets, and terraces facing Lincoln Terrace Park.
Protests, queries, and complaints created the need for a Town Hall meeting focused on the shelter. Hosted by Council member Darlene Mealy, Community Board #17 District Manager Sheriff Fraser, and Director of Community Development of Block Associations B.M. Marcus, the Town Hall was attended by 100 community members – homeowners, clergy, formerly homeless, and concerned citizens. Residents of the shelter were invited, but did not attend. Neither did the City’s Economic Development Corp., which was also invited.
Mealy presented her own concerns, and wondered if there are counselors on premises; whether residents can have visitors. Mealy said, “I am not saying I am against shelters,” and reminded attendees of the numbers of people coming back from prison who sometimes find themselves sleeping as guests on sofas, with no housing of their own.
Attendees expressed their concerns. One spoke for teachers employed at PS 398, located a half block from the development. Several teachers applied for purchase of the development’s co-op units, and found they could not afford them. The speaker observed it was no wonder the developer could not sell them, they were too expensive for middle class teacher salaries. Mealy commented that she is mindful of the affordability of new developments; she is blocking another Brownsville development with a proposed price per unit of $750,000. “It is not being built,” Mealy said.
There were no hard answers as to how much the City is paying to house the homeless. Mealy said it may be $90.00 per night, per room. A college educated formerly homeless worker said she had received a shelter allowance budget letter that stated a cost of $1,000 per week per person. Marcus said the shelter is being paid $150.00 per night, per room.
Marcus called the whole process a “scam,” occurring in Brooklyn and the Bronx. “Our tax dollars could be spent differently.” According to Marcus, HPD and NYCHA combined are warehousing a total of 500,000 apartments. “Instead of renting rooms for $150.00 per night, the money could be used for low income housing,” Marcus said. He added, “I am not against the homeless, but this is a community.”
Fraser reported a series of communications between CB #17, EDC, and the Dept. of Homeless Services beginning March 18. Fraser was notified that 1040 East New York Ave had a “total capacity of 68 units,” which “will provide transitional housing and an array of services as they transition to permanent housing.” Fraser said CB #17 contacted the EDC exec. dir., who was invited to the CB meetings. Fraser pointed out EDC was a no show then, and at the Town Hall meeting.
Fraser said a major complaint she receives is that these type of facilities are being placed throughout East Flatbush. She said the DHS intends to place these type of facilities “on your block.”
Mealy asked attendees to remember the City has no law to control what private owners do with their property as long as the property complies with housing codes.
Then Mealy told what happened on her block. A private house was turned into a homeless shelter. On her block, witnesses saw beds being moved in a 12:30 at night. Later it was found that 27 beds were placed in a 2 story house. “The community accepted it,” Mealy said. The shelter residents were not a problem, and in fact attend block association meetings. According to Mealy, the residents have become part of the community.
Providing a broader view, Mealy told of a development on Atlantic between Buffalo and Ralph which has 5 tiers of income levels, including 10% homeless. “A homeless family can be in an apartment next to someone making $80,000.”
One man said he was part of a 2-person protest in front of the facility until one resident with children opened the window and yelled she was there are a result of domestic violence. Her words made him stop and think. He said, “When undocumented men from the Caribbean and Africa overstay their VISA, we didn’t call Homeland Security or ICE. These women and children are American citizens.” He told the Town Hall attendees, “Don’t discriminate.”
Mealy concurred, “We can’t stereotype people. There but for the grace of God, go I.”
No one knew if the shelter was housing single men, single women, or women with children. An older man was extremely concerned if the type of men who reside at the Atlantic Ave. shelter would be placed in the facility. Another woman said she did not have a problem with homeless women and children living in the facility. “They spend money in the community. Their children attend local schools.”
Marcus said “Several psych centers are being placed in our community.” Mealy responded, “This is happening everywhere.”
Mealy asked if there are problems with the homeless facility. “Has anyone been seen standing outside?” No one in attendance could say they have. Mealy reminded the attendees that elected officials cannot be everywhere. “It is important that members of the community contact their official when they see something of concern.”
Volunteers stepped forward to participate in a soon to be scheduled tour of the facility and will bring observations to a follow-up Town Hall.