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Possible homeless housing pops up in Hunts Point

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Candido Resto wants to stay in Hunts Point. But he claims that his apartment building has quietly become a de-facto homeless shelter and that his building management company wants him out. It appears that the city Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has agreed to pay his landlord and a homeless services provider for each apartment its clients occupy.

Resto’s lease at 1315 Lafayette Avenue expired in May; although his management company declined to offer a new lease, rent payments on Resto’s behalf were accepted through October, when Resto was mailed a court summons, he alleges. Resto claims that the management company told him that he had been sent a new lease and that he owed thousands of dollars in rent arrears, on account of a $940/month to $3,000/month rent increase. Further, Resto alleges that in October the management company offered to forget his arrears and give him $5,000 to leave his apartment. He claims that on Monday, November 9, the management company offered him $7,000 to leave. Court records include a case filed on Thursday, October 1 on behalf of Lafayette 1315 Realty LLC against Resto and list $6,265 as the amount demanded. Resto is under the impression that rent laws prohibit more than an 8 percent rent increase.

Resko asks why his management company would offer $7,000 to an indebted tenant. Perhaps, Resto alleges, because his landlord has engaged Bronx Neighborhood Annex to manage DHS “cluster site” housing at his 38-unit apartment building.

Around the time he was mailed a court summons, Resto noticed a handful of new families at the building. On Friday, October 30, Bronx Neighborhood Annex stationed a security guard in the lobby of 1315 Lafayette Avenue, only feet from Resto’s first floor apartment, he said. When this reporter visited the building on Friday, November 6, the security guard was present and signs announced a 10 p.m. curfew for Bronx Neighborhood Annex adults, a 9 p.m. curfew for Bronx Neighborhood Annex children, a sign-in sheet and a no-visitors policy for Bronx Neighborhood Annex clients. Signs also pointed to a Bronx Neighborhood Annex case managers’ office around the corner on Bryant Avenue.

The city is desperate to find shelter for its homeless population; the number of homeless sheltered in the city reached an all-time high of 39,243 in September, the non-profit Coalition for the Homeless reported. It appears that cluster sites – buildings in which a percentage of apartments are occupied by homeless families – are DHS’s answer. A handful of DHS facilities, opened with minimal or delayed notification to Bronx community boards, have generated concern this fall.

Community Board 2, which oversees Hunts Point, received no notification of a cluster site planned for 1315 Lafayette Avenue, CB2 district manager John Robert said. In May, a DHS spokeswoman stated that, prior to neighborhood discontent in February and March related to unsatisfactory notification at cluster sites on Mosholu Parkway and Briggs Avenue in Bedford Park, DHS hadn’t notified community boards about cluster sites at all, in order to protect the safety and confidentiality of its clients. From then on, it has been DHS’ policy to offer notification, but only when cluster site clients occupy 50 percent or more of the apartments in a building, she said.

Although Bronx Neighborhood Annex is not among the homeless services providers listed on DHS’s website, a city Human Resources Administration (HRA) policy bulletin dated May 7, 2009 lists it and Bronx Neighborhood Aguila Cluster, bearers of the same Boynton Avenue address, as Bronx cluster sites.

The homeless services provider Aguila, Inc. lists Bronx Neighborhood Cluster on its website. Aguila, Inc., run by Peter Rivera, the son of Assemblyman Peter Rivera, is the same provider that was criticized by Community Board 7 for unsatisfactory cluster site notification on Mosholu Parkway and Briggs Avenue. Aguila operates more than 300 cluster sites in the Bronx and accepted $9.2 million from DHS in 2006, according to The New York Times. DHS pays homeless services providers to administer its cluster sites and pays rent to landlords. The HRA policy bulletin lists the daily rates for Bronx Neighborhood Annex and Bronx Neighborhood Aguila Cluster as $116.13 – in other words, close to $3,500/month.

The landlord of 1315 Lafayette Avenue, Toni Haddad, listed as its owner on a Department of Buildings job file from September, answered a request for comment, confirmed his ownership of the building and said he would call back. Haddad didn’t call back and hadn’t responded to further requests for comment as of Tuesday, November 10. An employee for the management company, Quality 1 Management, declined comment, as did Bronx Neighborhood Annex and DHS. Rivera deferred comment to DHS.

“I won’t be intimidated,” said Resto, who has been homeless himself.

The building has 161 open Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) violations, according to HPD’s online database. Mold destroyed Resto’s bathroom ceiling and there is often garbage in the hall, he said. The lobby was clean and there were signs on children’s health when this reporter visited on November 6.

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