Column: ‘This is nothing less than a major assault on our communities’

Photo Jason Cohen

“Coming Soon To 1374 Blondell Avenue & 2443 Poplar Street: Two 200-bed homeless shelters for single men. For more information or to comment on how this will affect this community contact: Community Board 11; 718-892-6262 or www.nyc.gov/bxcb11.”

You may or may not have seen this flier posted around Tremont Avenue and in Westchester Square. The city is planning to put two twin homeless shelters, that’s 400 beds, for single homeless men on either side of Westchester Square, a 13-minute walk from each other on the siting recommendation of Community Board 11. Both of these sites are literally on their border: one across the street from CB10, and the other down the block from both CB 9 and 10. Both CB 9 and 10 have far more than their share of shelters and homeless facilities, while CB 11 was being forced by the city to locate several, as they had none of the city’s.

However, although the areas may be located in three community board districts, the neighborhood is Westchester Square, which has always had more than its fair share of similar city agencies. Each site is inappropriate for several reasons.

We have already gone through the burden being placed on Blondell Avenue with Blondell Commons next door, which will be an affordable housing project for very low-income residents and comprising 20% homeless. The shelter site is also contaminated with gasoline and heavy metals that will require millions in toxic chemical remediation and has a high-water table (a creek runs beneath it). The price tag for the Blondell 200-bed SRO shelter for homeless men is $360 million.

Now, a few words about the Poplar Street site. This shelter was originally designated for Stillwell Avenue. But CB 11 fought this siting, saying it was too near to schools and residences (the Equestrian luxury apartments are nearby). And so, they enthusiastically put forward 2443 Poplar St. as an alternative location in a letter from CB 11 to Jocelyn Carter, of the New York City Department of Social Services, that was cc’d to all our elected officials, the mayor, the governor, and the borough president among others.

“I cannot stress enough that both 2443 Poplar and … are more conducive sites for shelter operations, which will replicate what is currently in existence and operation throughout the outer boroughs of New York City for, as I mentioned in my last letter, much less cost.” The signature on my copy of the letter has been blacked out.

Now let’s look at the actual site. Directly across the street on Poplar is the playground for the Easter Seals Bronx Child Development Center, which faces onto Tremont Avenue. Two blocks away is the Saint Raymond Elementary School, and nearby, the high school and it will be across the street from Saint Raymond’s Church. That makes three schools within one or two blocks of the shelter site. And, the area is next to many single-family, two-family and small apartment houses.

Now let’s add this to the fact that the city is proposing another 200-bed single-room occupancy (SRO) homeless shelter for single men just a 13-minute walk away, and it is clear that this site is not appropriate, despite what CB 11 says.

The siting of these two twin homeless shelters, with the same population and by the same city agency are clearly in violation of the Fair Share Doctrine, which states:

To site facilities equitably by balancing the considerations of community needs for services, efficient and cost-effective service delivery, and the social, economic, and environmental impacts of City facilities upon surrounding areas.

Lessen disparities among communities in the level of responsibility each bears for facilities serving Citywide or regional needs.

Preserve the social fabric of the City’s diverse neighborhoods by avoiding undue concentrations of institutional uses in residential areas.

From: “DOWN AND OUT: How New York City Places Its Homeless Shelters.” Published by the New York City Comptroller’s Office; May 2013

And:

“The criteria shall be designed to further the fair distribution among communities of the burdens and benefits associated with city facilities, consistent with community needs for services and efficient and cost-effective delivery of services and with due regard for the social and economic impacts of such facilities upon the areas surrounding the sites.”

Article 203 of the City Charter; Criteria for location of city facilities.

It is clear that these two shelters will overwhelm this area. How can this be justified? While we are aware that the homeless situation is and has been a crisis since at least 2009, the siting of these so close together and on the very border of the community board needing to locate shelters within their district and adjacent to other community boards that have already taken their fair share is simply not right. There is a Facebook page set up about this: https://www.facebook.com/groups/3119610548270999/about or search Facebook for 2443 Poplar Street. There will be a full board meeting of CB 11 at Maestro’s on Sept 30.

We encourage everyone who would like to comment on this to attend. We will be there. Please call the board to confirm the location, 718-892-6262.

Now a word about the other fight going on, the proposed rezoning of the Bruckner/Tremont intersection. The city plan to upzone the contiguous areas and build several affordable high-rise housing units. This too, if approved by the city, will open the door to massive overdevelopment, as we are seeing on Blondell Avenue.

Taken all together, this is nothing less than a major assault on our communities. These changes will change the nature of our community forever. While, the needs are great (yes, we know there are affordable housing and homeless crises, as we have been told at least since 2009) where is rational city planning? Where does the community factor into these plans? These projects seem like a haphazard ad hoc attempt to “do something, anything” about festering problems that have been neglected for decades, putting Band-Aids on very serious problems that have gone on too long. To just plunk down hundreds of homeless into two SROs in a 1-mile square area, and to upzone a low-density area with more than 400 units with no planning or increased infrastructure is madness and a recipe for chaos. We support the fight against this overdevelopment until growth can be done in a rational way working together with the community, and we encourage others to also.

Stay safe. Until we meet again.

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