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North Bronx neighbors oppose shelter

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News that a HIV/AIDS homeless housing provider could set up shop smack dab in the middle of Wakefield’s shopping corridor has sent residents and business owners into a tizzy. Community Board 12 will host a meeting between Praxis Housing Initiatives and anxious neighbors on Thursday, January 7 to discuss the future of 4339 White Plains Road, a vacant lot between E. 236th and E. 237th streets where Praxis wants to build.

Praxis has yet to acquire the former funeral home parking lot and hasn’t formally requested support from CB12. Praxis architect Jolie Milstein asked neighbors to suspend judgment until details emerge. But the housing provider’s preliminary plans leaked to the Bronx Business Alliance and beyond in November.

Some residents and business owners are opposed to a shelter. CB12, the Bronx Business Alliance, the E. 222nd Street Block Association and the Wakefield Taxpayers and Civic League want to revive the White Plains Road shopping corridor, where 99 cents stores abound. They’d rather see a chain retailer such as Payless Shoes set up shop, Mary Lauro of the Wakefield Taxpayers said. Lauro has started an anti-Praxis petition. A HIV/AIDS homeless housing development would “destroy our work” on White Plains Road, Lauro said. Margaret Arrighi of the Bronx Business Alliance agreed.

“We’d rather see a retailer put a different spin on the corridor,” Arrighi said.

Lauro has suggested that Praxis acquire land on White Plains Road between E. 238th and E. 240th streets or past E. 241st Street, where the corridor is more industrial, she said. CB12 district manager Carmen Rosa also thinks the development would work better elsewhere, she said.

Rumors have the potential development at seven stories and 80 residents, but Praxis has no hard and fast plan, Milstein said. Praxis operates four transitional housing developments for homeless people with HIV/AIDS in Brooklyn and is interested in building a permanent housing development for the same population on White Plains Road, Milstein said. The development would include 24/7 security and case managers, she added. Praxis, established in 1995, has considered a ground-floor medical center for the potential development but would also consider ground-floor retail if neighbors requested it, Milstein said.

Praxis residents are 100 percent homeless and 78 percent male, the provider’s website reads. All have HIV/AIDS. One in four possess criminal histories. Most are 20 to 50 years old. More than 60 percent haven’t completed high school, 75 to 80 percent have drug or alcohol problems and 75 to 80 percent have mental health issues. All are destitute. Praxis has earned high marks from the city and state agencies that monitor HIV/AIDS homeless housing security and services, the website reads.

CB12 has taken pains to ensure that all concerned parties will attend the January 7 meeting, chair Richard Gorman said. Gorman has many questions to ask Praxis, he said.

“We want to reach out to the community,” Milstein said. “We want the community to tell us what it wants.”

Praxis wouldn’t need CB12 approval to build, Rosa explained. Praxis residents wouldn’t help the corridor, Judy Hudson of the E. 222nd Street Block Association said. CB12 is home to 38 special needs housing developments and six permanent supportive housing developments, five of which are senior housing developments, a borough president-prepared report shows.

“We want people to invest here,” Hudson said. “Not suck the life out of our community.”

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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