Bronx suffers unfair share/Gjonaj sues city over homeless burden

Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj has filed a lawsuit against the city along with a dozen other Bronx residents alleging the borough gets an unfair share of homeless shelters.
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Northeast Bronx assemblyman and a candidate to replace Councilman James Vacca, Mark Gjonaj, has filed a lawsuit alleging the Bronx is getting more than its fair share of homeless shelters.

The lawsuit, filed August 29 in Bronx County Court through Manhattan-based attorneys Dunnington, Bartholomew & Miller LLP, names the city of New York as defendant and Gjonaj and 13 other Bronx residents as plaintiffs.

“This does not seek to reduce or stop current supportive housing options,” Gjonaj stated of the complaint. “It seeks to ensure that each borough in the city pitches in to do its fair share to aid the neediest among us.”

Since 1989, the city charter’s Fair Share provision requires the issuance of annual ‘beds to population’ index to assess the impact of city facilities on communities to ensure equitable distribution of supportive housing citywide.

The lawsuit alleges the city has failed to issue that index since 2003.

The suit also alleges the Bronx has a significantly higher number of shelter beds then other boroughs – approximately 830 beds per 100,000 people.

That number is more than double the number in Queens and almost double what Brooklyn has, the lawsuit states.

Gjonaj is asking the city to issue the mandated annual index so that the fair share criteria can be known when considering any future applications for new or expanded residential facilities.

“As someone who has fought to protect and create affordable housing options for the most vulnerable New Yorkers, I know firsthand the severity of the problem that we face as a city,” Gjonaj added. “It is the responsibility of each borough to be part of the solution.”

New York City, under Mayor de Blasio, has recently launched a new initiative to close so-called ‘cluster sites,’ where the city rents apartments in existing buildings to house the homeless, and replace them with permanent shelters citywide.

Under that new initiative, the city plans to build shelters in areas where large homeless populations already live.

Many Bronx leaders fear the borough will continue to get a larger number of homeless than other boroughs.

The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Clarisa Alayeto, Felix Aponte, Bernard Smith, Wilbert Lawton, Mohammed Mardah, Sheila Sanchez, Sara Nunez-Mejia, Jean Hill, Rafael Barbosa, Yasmin Cruz, Gerardina Colon, Janice Walcott and Robert Hall.

Hill is the Land Use, Zoning and Housing Committee chair for Community Board 7, but stressed she joined the lawsuit as a private individual.

She cited the recent proposal by Sam’s Floor Coverings at 3041 Webster Avenue to add a third level to the two-floor commercial building to create a 200-bed homeless shelter just feet away from P.S. 20. That proposal is still being considered by the city.

“There are a lot of homeless shelters planned in places that are inappropriate,” she said as the reason for joining the lawsuit.

The NYC Law Department is reviewing the complaint, according to a department spokesman.

Reach Reporter Arthur Cusano at (718) 742–4584. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @arthurcusano.

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