City Moves Homeless to West 95th Street

| 17 Feb 2015 | 04:10

Local residents and officials are outraged and alarmed by a Department of Homeless Services (DHS) decree that they will soon be placing 200 homeless families in two West 95th Street buildings. According to a letter sent to Community Board 7 on July 19, DHS will be contracting with a company called Aguila Inc. to operate transitional housing facilities at 316 and 330 W. 95th St. They will house 200 adult families, which could mean upward of 400 individuals. When determining where and how to house its homeless residents, the city is pulled by two laws that sometimes place a greater burden on certain communities. New York is a right-to-shelter city, meaning that DHS is responsible for providing a bed for every resident, every night. It also has to adhere to the fair share doctrine that calls for every community district to house an equal number of the city's homeless population-in other words, the city can't place a cluster of shelters in one neighborhood in the Bronx and leave other neighborhoods without any shelters. But when the number of homeless New Yorkers comes close to the number of available beds, an emergency situation is created that allows DHS to site temporary transitional housing in neighborhoods without regard to the fair share rules. It's this emergency loophole that has Upper West Siders upset. "All of [the elected officials] have gotten lots of emails from residents in the community who are just fed up with the city placing people on 94th and 95th Street corridors when there's a homeless emergency," said Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal. "This is a decade already that they've looked at this area as the go-to place. This is a very generous and giving neighborhood, but I think the people in the neighborhood have just reached their limit." Rosenthal joined City Council Member Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Community Board 7 chair Mark Diller in sending a letter to DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond, strongly urging him to suspend the efforts to move people into the West 95th Street facilities. Part of the objection from local officials stems from the fact that these buildings were designed as single room occupancy (SRO) units, small, inexpensive rooms with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities that could provide permanent housing for low-income residents. But owners and landlords of SROs have a greater incentive to rent to DHS, which Rosenthal said pays $111 per room per day, adding up to much more than a typical $600 or $700-per-month rent on an SRO unit. Locals insist that they don't object to housing the homeless in their community, but that they shouldn't be burdened with a sudden influx of homeless adults when they already have a high number of shelters. "The Upper West Side in general, and this corridor of the West 90s in particular, currently provides shelter to the homeless and other vulnerable populations through a variety of facilities. These buildings collectively serve thousands of people," read part of the letter to Diamond. "This is not NIMBY," said Diller in an email. "In fact, there are existing buildings being used to serve vulnerable populations as close as a half-block from the location. Rather, it is about achieving the right kind of balance for the vulnerable population, the other residents of the proposed buildings and the surrounding community." DHS did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this article, and Rosenthal said that the agency has not been forthcoming with the community. Robert Hess, a former DHS commissioner who is now the chairman and CEO of Housing Solutions USA, which will be merging with Aguila and operating the facilities, wrote in a letter to the Community Board that his company "seek[s] to meet [clients'] needs through a comprehensive continuum of care, knowing the lasting, positive change cannot occur unless the complexity of the problems our clients face is acknowledged and addressed." Hess would not speak with a reporter for this story, and his company repeatedly refused to answer any questions about the operations planned for 316 and 330 W. 95th St.