Bronx officials learn of Orchard Beach exodus as mayor announces it Monday

New York City Mayor Eric Adams announces he's pulling the migrant shelter from Orchard Beach and relocating on Randall's Island.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams announces he’s pulling the migrant shelter from Orchard Beach and relocating to Randall’s Island.
Photo Adrian Childress

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement Monday night that he was relocating the Orchard Beach migrant shelter to Randall’s Island — another decision that some Bronx officials say they were unaware of until details had already been finalized.   

Community Board 10 District Manager Matthew Cruz told the Bronx Times on Tuesday that his office never met with the mayor about the project when it was first announced, and that he found out about the shelter relocation after Adams’ statement was issued and local news outlets began reporting on the move Monday night.

“No one reached out to us beforehand to tell us that there was a change of heart with this location,” Cruz said Tuesday morning. “It’s unfortunate that this is the level of communication, or lack thereof, that we have presently. We’re hoping for better in the near future.” 

According to Monday night’s statement from Adams, flooding and accessibility were the two major reasons for the switch. 

“Following this weekend’s storms, New York City Emergency Management determined that, while we would be able to put in place the necessary ponding mitigation measures, relocating the Orchard Beach humanitarian relief center to Randall’s Island is the most efficient and effective path forward, and work is underway to make this move,” the statement from the mayor’s office says.

Rain comes down on the Orchard Beach migrant shelter on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.
Rain comes down on the Orchard Beach migrant shelter on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. The site faced some minor flooding with heavy rains over the weekend. Photo Adrian Childress

Cruz said while the Orchard Beach location was undergoing the beginning stages of construction residents of the area were “apprehensive” about the project, although discourse is now “moot” due to the relocation. 

“They look to their community board as a source of communication and information, and the fact that we had not much to provide gave them more concern,” Cruz said. “But mother nature proved what we were saying all along — that the Orchard Beach facility, or parking lot, was not well equipped for this operation — and unfortunately a lot of time and resources may have been wasted.”

The mayor’s office did not confirm a shelter location change on Monday afternoon when the Bronx Times reached out, but press secretary Fabien Levy said Tuesday that the central point of the project is to handle the humanitarian crisis in a way that is both beneficial for asylum seekers and for the city. After a cost analysis, Levy said the Adams administration chose the new location at Randall’s Island — which he said is more conveniently located to public transportation and to Manhattan, and is less prone to flooding. 

Levy also told the Bronx Times on Tuesday that Bronx officials have been continually notified about the migrant shelter project before any decisions have been announced, and that the mayor’s office is working with agencies in communities that will host refugees.

In a statement Tuesday, City Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez, for District 13, said that moving the shelter to Randall’s Island better “fits the needs of asylum seekers and the agencies that serve them, and is a direct result of teamwork and compassion on all levels.” She also said she’s provided feedback and suggestions to the mayor in “consistent conversations since the initial announcement of the project,” and found out about the relocation “after plans were confirmed” by agencies, “shortly before” Adams’ press release went live. 

Congressional candidate Tina Forte speaks in opposition to the Orchard Beach migrant shelter during a demonstration at the construction site on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.
Congressional candidate Tina Forte speaks in opposition to the Orchard Beach migrant shelter during a demonstration at the construction site on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. Photo Adrian Childress

In an interview last week, Velázquez told the Bronx Times that while she’s committed to aiding refugees, she had not been a part of the decision-making process and had concerns about the Orchard Beach location. Similarly, Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson said in a statement last week that Orchard Beach was not an “ideal” spot and that it “raised reasonable concerns.” Bronx Borough President’s Office Director of Communications Michael Ivory said Tuesday that Gibson was notified prior to the announcement, and in a statement Tuesday night the borough president said she has “similar concerns about flooding during the hurricane season on Randall’s Island.”  

The move comes after the Adams administration announced it would open New York City’s first humanitarian emergency response and relief center last month, due to a large number of asylum seekers sent north from Texas and other border states. The centers are meant to be temporary safe havens for refugees — providing them shelter, food, medical care, case work services and settlement options.

Both the Orchard Beach and the Randall’s Island locations have been met with pushback from different user groups since Adams first announced he’d be constructing temporary shelters. 

On Saturday there was a protest at the Orchard Beach construction site, where Bronxites and community leaders debated both the legality and morality of the project. Some raised concerns about the parking lot’s predisposition to flooding, while others — such as Bronx resident and Republican candidate Tina Forte, who is vying for U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s seat in Congress next month — urged the city to relocate the migrants elsewhere.

The construction site on Saturday was also inundated with rain — a heavy downpour flooding the area with over half an inch of rain in 24 hours, according to the South Bronx Mutual Aid.

Some New York City councilmembers also discussed issues with the project in an oversight hearing last week, called by the Committee on Immigration Chair Shahana Hanif. AMNY reported that the center wouldn’t comply with the city’s “right to shelter law,” which is supposed to guarantee shelter to all people experiencing homelessness.

The Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit advocacy organization, criticized the mayor’s decision to relocate the shelter in a Tuesday statement, saying the city should seek out alternatives to “tent cities,” like temporary lodging in hotels.

While we appreciate City Hall’s commitment to the right to shelter, the flooding at Orchard Beach should serve as a canary in a coal mine, and the Adams Administration must abandon this wrongheaded plan in favor of the actions we’ve been advocating for since the beginning of this crisis,” the statement says. 

The city also turned a hotel into a migrant intake center, according to a City Limits report last week, at the Stewart Hotel on 7th Avenue in midtown Manhattan.

Levy said Tuesday that the mayor is “considering a number” of locations for additional shelters, but did not answer whether or not any other Bronx sites were currently up for consideration.

Reach Camille Botello at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

More from Around NYC