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Shelter Ruling Victory

A move by the cty to stop the release of documents related to the opening of the Westchester Square homeless shelter has been denied by a judge.

The ruling by Bronx Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Wright dated Wednesday, May 18, will now allow the plaintiffs in the case to subpoena testimony and documents that will shed light on how the shelter at 1564 St. Peter’s Avenue was allowed to open without going through the checks and balances mandated by the City Charter.

The homeless shelter’s opening in August 2009 started an uproar that resulted in weeks of protest outside of Mayor Bloomberg’s Pelham Bay campaign office.

The shelter was opened without community notification or fair-share analysis required under the charter, because at the time the city claimed there was no formal leasing agreement.

Attorney for the Square’s plaintiffs, Steven Kaufman, said that the judge interpreted the case in the same way that the plaintiffs, which include the Comptroller John Liu, the Westchester Square Zerega Improvement Organization, merchant leader John Bonizio, and community leaders Sandi Lusk and Hannah Acampora, had argued.

“I think it is a great decision because the judge came down and interpreted it the same way that we interpreted it,” Kaufman said. “He maintains that there is a lease between the city and that they have to go through the ULURP and the Fair-Share process.”

Kaufman, Bonizio, and Lusk all said that since the city is facing other lawsuits over homeless shelters openings around the city, the case will be watched as it proceeds and could be precedent setting.

“He hits them in the face,” Kaufman said bluntly of the judge’s decision. “This is a home run. I think the community is changing the law.”

Wright stated in the ruling that it could not be denied that the city funds were paying to house homeless families in the building, originally slated to be luxury rentals, and that since there is no plan for moving the homeless families elsewhere, “the temporary has ripened into the permanent.”

Comptroller’s Liu and his predecessor William Thompson intervened in the case because by circumventing the City Charter, the defendant denies the comptroller oversight as to how city funds are being spent.

It was revealed that the city is paying approximately $4,000 a month for apartments that have a market value of about $1,500 a month, Bonizio said.

“The facts are the city did not follow the City Charter, did not conduct a Fair-Share analysis, and didn’t notify the community, Bonizio stated. “We have a right to subpoena former Commissioner Hess, the people working under him at the Department of Homeless Services, BASICS Housing, the landlord,and all of their documents.”

The DHS denies that the opening of the shelter did not comply with the law.

“We respectfully disagree with the decision,” said DHS spokeswoman Heather Janik. “Homeless Services has fully complied with public review, City procurement and Comptroller registration procedures for the shelter.”

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