By Akosua K. Albritton
“Un-‘Fair’ and against the law!” This was the message of a rally of Crown Heights residents at the Bed-Stuy Restoration Plaza recently. For the residents, the unequal bed counts in the communities tell an open tale of inequality: Crown Heights has 1,779; Bed-Stuy 1,527 and Park Slope has 331 while Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge and Borough Park all host zero beds for the homeless.
Many residents of Brooklyn Community Board #8, with 17 shelters, felt that a shelter for homeless seniors, due to open at 1173 Bergen Street, was another blow to their community. The residents came together as petitioners Rebirth of Bergen Street Block Association, Dean Street Block Association and 28 individuals against the NYC Department of Homeless Services, CORE SERVICES GROUP, INC., and CSN, LP (the owners of 1173 Bergen Street) to petition the Kings County Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order “To stay the City from opening a 104-bed men’s shelter.” The petitioners’ grounds were that “their neighborhood is already overburdened and saturated with homeless shelters and that DHS failed to conduct a Fair Share review in accordance with the Fair Share Criteria.” Justice Paul Wooten issued the order on March 24, 2017 and Justice Levine extended the order on March 28, 2017, “Until the Court has had an opportunity to review the Fair Share Analysis (“Analysis”) submitted by the respondent City of New York (“City”) as well as forthcoming legal papers.”
From a study of ACRIS, 1173 Bergen Street (Block 1214-Lot 76) has passed through several hands since 2006. Previous owners include 720 Livonia Ave. Realty Corp., Bergen LLC, City of NY, Crown Heights North Historic District, Metro Co. and, since November 20, 2014, the property was owned by CSN Partners LP. However, shortly after CSN Partners LP purchased it, the business got involved in flipping the property between itself and 1802304 Alberta, Ltd., Arnav Industries, Inc. and Profit Sharing Plan & Trust.
While the two Kings County Supreme Court Justices see the validity of completing the Fair Share Analysis, other quarters believe the community folks are callous to homeless people’s plight. After all, a shelter designated for seniors would be a relief to those aged 60 years or more. Male adult shelters can be hard for 18-22-year-olds to be in and the same is true for the elderly in terms of verbal abuse and physical threats of harm.
Adem Bunkeddeko, a North Crown Heights resident and Brooklyn Community Board 8 member, views the shelter controversy within the context of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s February 28, 2017 announcement of “the City Plan” for homeless services. The mayor intends to “open 90 shelters, while cutting the number of facilities by 45%; eliminating ‘cluster’ apartments by 2021; and stop using commercial hotels by 2023.” Critics of the plan contend it requires more details for its feasibility.
What cannot be disregarded is the cost to New York in keeping the homeless in commercial hotels. NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer issued DHS Commercial Hotel Summary, December 14, 2016 and DHS Commercial Hotel Update, April 17, 2017. The “Update” reveals:
- Nearly 347,000 rooms were booked between November 1, 2016 and February 28, 2017
- The cost for that period was $65.2 million.
“I strongly believe we need to build shelters. There are folks who need dedicated shelters to stabilize their lives. I view it as a social justice issue. On the other hand, Crown Heights is overloaded. I’m not sure whether Crown Heights is shouldering more than its fair share,” says Adem Bunkeddeko, but regarding the City Plan he says, “The proposal, as currently presented, does not seem fair or transparent. There are 90 proposed shelters but the public has been informed about only five of them—three are in the Crown Heights area. One of the three is in operation in Prospect Heights. Without a full understanding of all 90 sites, it is unfair to go forward with the plan. The public needs to see the whole picture.”
It is a fact that Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan bear the load of homeless shelters. Queens and Staten Island get off lightly. Former NYC Comptroller John Liu issued “Down and Out: How New York City Places Its Homeless Shelters” in May 2013. This report revealed: the Bronx had 148 homeless shelters, Brooklyn had 127, Manhattan had 74, Queens had 15 and Staten Island had 6.
It is these concentrations of homeless shelters and services that disturb New Yorkers that reside in these community boards. The public questions how does the application of the eight Fair Share Criteria result in, for example, Brooklyn Community Board #3 having 25 shelters and #8 having 17 shelters but Brooklyn Community Boards #10 and #12 do not have shelters? In 2013, New York City had a homeless population of 51,000. By 2016, the population had grown to 60,000 homeless people. Is it time for the Fair Share Criteria to be revised? The last revision occurred in 1998 during Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration.