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CB 7 opposes Villa Avenue Residence

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Project Renewal’s plans to open a permanent housing facility for chronically ill people in Bedford Park are facing community opposition.

Community Board 7 voted on Tuesday, June 19 to send a letter to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to oppose the siting of a 56-unit building proposed by Project Renewal at 3114 Villa Avenue, at the corner of E. 204th Street.

The building has been in the works for about six years, a board member said.

The nearly unanimous vote by CB 7 came after a presentation by Mark Hurwitz, deputy director of Project Renewal, to the CB 7 housing committee on Monday, June 18 in which committee members asked Hurwitz difficult questions about Project Renewal’s plans for the building, said CB 7 housing committee chairwoman Jean Hill. It would house ‘chronically homeless and medically needy individuals who are heavy users of emergency room and in-patient care,’

“There seems to be a proliferation of these kinds of facilities in our area,” Hill said. “It is not that we’re against people who want to be rehabilitated or who need housing, but how many of these facilities can our community place?”

The board has received numerous calls from concerned homeowners and parents about the site, about a block away from St. Philip Neri School, Hill said.

There is already another facility with about 87 beds serving a distressed population at Grand Concourse and Bedford Park Blvd., and adding another to the area would be over-saturation, Hill argued. Project Renewal will build a modern green building, and have staff on-site providing social services to the residents, who will have leases, Hurwitz said.

“The 56 homes that we are planning to build there are going to be a win, not only for the tenants - who are going to improve their health and have an affordable place to live - but also a win for the neighborho­od,” Hurwitz said. “We will be transforming a vacant lot into a green building with a 16-person staff and 24-hour front desk presence, as well as a light-filled multipurpose room that we will share with community groups.”

Montefiore Medical Center, Part of the Solution, and BronxWorks all issued letters of support in favor of the Villa Avenue Residence.

“The project’s goal of integrating housing and support services for chronically homeless Bronx residents is consistent with BronxWorks’ mission to help individuals and families improve their economic and social well-being,” stated BronxWorks executive director Carolyn McLaughlin.

Montefiore president and CEO Steven Safyer also stated that the project was consistent with Montefiore’s mission “to heal, to teach, to discover, and to advance the health of Bronx communities.”

“Like P.O.T.S., the Villa Avenue Residence aims to help restore the dignity of those who come through its doors,” stated P.O.T.S. (Part of the Solution) executive director Christopher Bean in a letter of support.

But Sonia Lappin, a 45-year resident of Bedford Park and vice-president of Scott Tower, is not having any of it.

Citing published reports in papers including the Bronx Times and New York Post that raised questions about safety and allegations of a hostile working environment in Project Renewal facilities in Manhattan, she said the owners in her development are opposed.

“I don’t know why this organization with a bad track record is dumping on the Bronx,” she said, noting another proposed Project Renewal 108-bed homeless housing facility on Bronx Boulevard has met with opposition from Community Board 12.

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CNG: Community Newspaper Group